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Government flyovers of feedlots and other animal feeding operations has Nebraska producers asking a lot of questions. Now elected officials have gotten involved in the quest for answers.
The Nebraska Cattlemen association says producers found out that the Environmental Protection Agency was using aerial surveillance of their animal feeding operations when the photos started appearing in inspection reports and letters.
Kristen Hassebrook, Director of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs, says an informational meeting conducted by EPA Region 7 back in March did little to answer questions.
"We've been working to encourage EPA to stop this practice - we consider it intrusive and unnecessary," she says. "We're just encouraging them to work with producers rather than sort of spy on producers."
Hassebrook says the Nebraska Cattlemen approached Nebraska's congressional delegation to find out more about the flyovers.
A letter to EPA Director Lisa Jackson signed by all three congressmen and both senators asks for more information, including if the EPA is using the Clean Water Act as authority to conduct the flyovers, how many they've done, when they started, and how long the images are kept.
Senator Mike Johanns said in a statement "Given EPA's recent track record of aggressive and overreaching agriculture regulation, these surveillance flights raise a lot of questions."
Congressman Adrian Smith also says the practice is a cause for privacy concerns. He said in a statement "These operations are in many cases near homes, and landowners deserve legitimate justification given the sensitivity of the information gathered by the flyovers."
Hassebrook says they're glad elected officials are pressing for answers.
"As unfortunate as it may sound, for producers it's often uncomfortable to stand up and speak out too loudly because the next day you could have an inspector on your doorstep," she says.
EPA officials in Washington DC could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.