By Iowa Congressman Tom Latham
Few developments in the news in recent weeks have disturbed me more than what we’re learning about the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) using unmanned drone aircraft to monitor Iowa farms. In some cases, we’re learning that the EPA has used the aircraft to gather information on agricultural operations. The simple truth is that no government agency should be able to treat Iowa farmers like the Taliban.
Alarm is growing among many farmers in the Midwest regarding this surveillance operation. They’re justifiably concerned that a government agency may be gathering information on them or their property without their consent or knowledge. Much of this alarm stems from the scarcity of facts we have about these flights. In response, I sent a letter this week to the EPA administrator to get to the bottom of what this aerial surveillance is all about. In my letter, I demanded responses from the EPA on what sort of information is being gathered, how that information is being used, how much these surveillance flights cost and what legal justification they have for conducting them.
In my letter, I asked the EPA to respond to my questions by June 29. Once I have the agency’s response, I’ll make that information public so Iowans can have all the available facts about the surveillance flights. Farmers deserve full disclosure and accountability from the EPA, especially when the agency is busy collecting information on them.
Iowa farmers understand that their livelihood depends on their stewardship of our natural resources. Farmers take great care to comply with clean water and clean air regulations. So a federal agency spending tax dollars to fly aircraft over farms to gather information on regulatory compliance is far beyond what’s necessary to enforce environmental regulations.
If the EPA refuses to fully answer my questions, or if the answers are inadequate, I’ll pursue legislative action to make sure the EPA respects the privacy of all U.S. citizens. I’ve also reached out to leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives and to my colleagues in nearby farm states who are also concerned with the surveillance flights to work with me on behalf of the American farmer. The American people deserve answers to some fundamental questions about the EPA’s surveillance procedures.
Everyone agrees that we have to take care of our natural resources. Farmers understand that more than most because they depend on clean water and healthy soil to do their jobs. But we can’t allow a government agency to trample the privacy of citizens in its efforts to enforce environmental regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency has left too many questions unanswered concerning these surveillance flights. It’s time to get some answers.
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