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EPA drones spying on the livestock activity of Midwest farmers

Monday, June 25, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: EPA, drones, farmers

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(NaturalNews) As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to approve scores of drone applications for a range of federal, state and local agencies, concern among Americans and privacy groups is rising about the use of these drones for illegal surveillance.

The latest federal agency to potentially have violated constitutional protections against invasive, unauthorized drone surveillance is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a federal leviathan within a leviathan that is developing quite a reputation for flexing authority it doesn't really have.

In fact, Congress recently launched a probe into whether this out-of-control, rogue agency has used drones to monitor the activities of farmers in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.

In early June, Nebraska's congressional delegation submitted a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to express their concern about the heavily invasive actions and legality of such monitoring.

"Farmers and ranchers in Nebraska pride themselves in the stewardship of our state's natural resources. As you might imagine, this practice [aircraft surveillance] has resulted in privacy concerns among our constituents and raises several questions," said the letter from Reps. Adrian Smith, Jeff Fortenberry, and Lee Terry, and GOP Sen. Mike Johanns, as well as Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson.

EPA - a history of arrogant dismissive tendencies

As expected, the delegation got an arrogant, self-serving response: Yes, the agency is using drones because doing so is cost-effective and legal. As has been the case for decades, few officials working for the EPA appear to understand the Constitution's Fourth Amendment privacy protections, as well as the Fifth Amendment's protection against being deprived of liberty without due process.

Reports said the surveillance so far has covered EPA's Region 7, which encompasses the Midwestern states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. Still, much of the surveillance has focused on Nebraska and Iowa because of the high concentration of livestock feeding operations in a watershed area with a history of contamination.

Despite the region's past problems, lawmakers concerned about the blatant privacy violation say farmers still deserve to be treated within the letter of the law, and the Constitution.

"Landowners deserve legitimate justification given the sensitivity of the information gathered by flyovers," Smith, who said much of the surveillance takes place around farmers' homes, told the New American magazine. "Nebraskans are rightfully skeptical of an agency which continues to unilaterally insert itself into the affairs of rural America."

In response to questions raised by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, EPA's Region 7 argued that "courts, including the Supreme Court, have found similar types of flights to be legal (for example to take aerial photographs of a chemical manufacturing facility)" and that the EPA "would use such flights in appropriate instances to protect people and the environment from violations of the Clean Water Act."

EPA says that, as of this writing, it has conducted dozens of overflights - seven flights have taken place over Iowa, and nine over Nebraska. And while the agency makes sure it notifies state environmental agencies when it plans to conduct the drone surveillance, officials don't bother to alert farmers and ranchers.

States, not the Feds, should be handling this

Locals say the surveillance is not only illegal but unjustified.

"The state comes out and inspects us and watches us," Chuck Folken, owner of a cattle feed yard in Nebraska, told the World-Herald. "They [EPA officials] are overstepping what the state is doing and I think it's unnecessary."

Adds Johanns of the agency, "They are just way on the outer limits of any authority they've been granted."

More than that, argue critics, there is nothing in the Constitution requiring the federal government to legislate the environment. Given that the EPA was created by an act of Congress that argument might be tough to uphold. But what isn't hard to figure out is that by simply defunding the EPA, Congress can curb the activities of the EPA.

Like a number of federal agencies, the EPA has grown far beyond its mandate and authority. It's time to start eliminating these obstacles to freedom and liberty.

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