Johanns seeks to ban EPA aerial surveillance
By Robert Pore, The Independent
U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., has introduced an amendment to the Farm Bill banning the controversial practice of aerial surveillance by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Johanns introduced the amendment on Wednesday, along with other amendments that are being debate by the full Senate this week. He is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Johanns and the rest of the
At the heart of their inquiry was what the EPA wanted to learn from the secret fly-overs and how the images were going to be used.
Kristen Hassebrook, director of natural resources and environmental affairs for the Nebraska Cattlemen, said her organization shares the concerns being raised by the congressional delegation.
When Nebraska Cattlemen learned about the fly-overs, Hassebrook said, they expressed their concerns to the EPA, but "we didn't get the response that we wanted."
"This is a trust issue, and farmers and ranchers don't trust EPA doing low-level surveillance flights over their operations," Johanns said. "EPA's surveillance program only adds to the deficit of trust this closed-door agency has earned of late."
Johanns' amendment specifically prohibits the EPA from conducting aerial surveillance to inspect or record images of agricultural operations.
"While the EPA has partially responded to our inquiry, many questions still remain," U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said. "It is troubling that confidential information could be subject to Freedom of Information requests."
If the issue is not resolved, Smith said, "I will continue to work to ensure the EPA is functioning strictly within its authority while respecting private property rights."
Johanns said the EPA's recent history of "imposing overreaching regulations on our farmers and ranchers" has made many in the agriculture community skeptical of the agency's actions.
Along that line of "overreaching regulations," he has also introduced a Farm Bill amendment dealing with the EPA's regulation of "farm dust."
Johanns offered an amendment last fall to prevent the "farm dust" regulation. With bipartisan support for the resolution, the EPA announced that it had no plans to regulate farm dust in the near term. But, according to Johanns, the EPA has not taken action to finalize this regulation.
His amendment would give states, localities and tribes the flexibility to address rural dust and provides a distinction from urban dust. EPA retains its regulatory authority only if it compiles findings of substantial adverse health effects caused by dust. The EPA would need to show that the benefits of the additional regulation outweigh the costs.
Johanns has also introduced an amendment to the Farm bill prohibiting the EPA administrator from double regulation in pesticide applications. The EPA moved forward with new permitting requirements in March after a court in 2009 overturned the normal practice of allowing farmers to apply pesticides as long as they complied with labeling requirements under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
Johanns said the duplicative permitting is "inefficient, unnecessary and inappropriate for agriculture" and presents a challenge to local public health efforts to control mosquitoes and prevent the spread of disease.
Another Johannís amendment is to the Farm Bill's nutrition title that doubles the state employee and training benefits as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program while eliminating uncapped, federal matching authority in the program.
According to Johanns, that would result in increased employee and training funding in at least 36 states and territories, but a few states have pushed the limits on the matching portion of the funding. By limiting just the overspending states, he said, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that taxpayers would save nearly $1.9 billion. He said the reform would not impact food benefits for those in need.
Another amendment to the Farm Bill that Johanns introduced would provide an explicit exemption from margin requirements for non-financial end-users that qualify for the clearing exemption.
"Farmers, ranchers and businesses using the financial markets to guard against risk is the type of responsible business practice we should encourage," he said. "Instead, they may be subject to far-reaching and unintended consequences of a very flawed law. Our amendment strives for much-needed clarity by allowing businesses to manage their risk and put their capital to good use, often creating more American jobs in the process."
© 2008-2013 agNET. All rights reserved