Friday, March 16, 2012

EPA Aerial Surveillance Under Fire

Brownfield Ag News recently reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had come under scrutiny for conducting aerial surveillance over Midwestern concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The practice is used by Region 7 (Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas).  I do not know whether other regions, such as Region 5 (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin) also engage in such activities.

In the Brownfield article, Josh Svaty of EPA defended the use of "fly-overs," as cost-effective, saying: “It’s a very efficient use of taxpayer dollars and it’s also a good way to look at a lot of CAFOs and AFOs all at once."

The problem with this statement is that the EPA has delegated to the states the right to permit CAFOs and enforce the Clean Water Act.  The EPA does not need to inspect every CAFO by air, ground, or otherwise.  It gave Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, etc., the right and obligation to do these inspections. 
Read the entire Brownfield article here: EPA CAFO Overflights Receive Scrutiny.

At a seminar a couple years ago, I saw photos taken by EPA inspectors during these flights.  The pictures did paint a clear picture of feedlot run-off into creeks and streams.  Still, I was left with a disturbing feeling that these overflights are wrong.  It is one thing for an inspector to show up on a farm, meet the operator, and receive a farm tour.  It is an entirely different type of inspection that occurs by air, without the farmer's knowledge or opportunity to explain matters.  Aerial surveillance is also overinclusive in that it includes a clear view of a farmer's home, backyard, swimming pool, etc.

But more than anything, aerial surveillance violates privacy.  The US Constitution does not contain an express "Right of Privacy," but the Supreme Court has numerous times interpreted The Fourth Amendment as protecting one's home from unreasonable government surveillance.  The Fourth Amendment reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
My guess is that most people have no idea that the EPA condones aerial flyovers.  If, upon learning this you are troubled, you are not alone.   


  1. This is great information Todd. Thanks for bringing it to the attention of the general public! How do we as individuals counter this? It seems to be just one of hundreds of "small" attacks on animal agriculture and needs a response.

    1. I think the best way is to reach out to your elected officials at the federal level. They may not even realize the means EPA uses to inspect farms. Your Congressman/Congresswoman should care about issues like this and since they control the purse strings for the EPA, they should have some clout. Thanks.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.