WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) announced that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finally have to reveal details about its aerial surveillance program. He applauded the inclusion of a provision he pushed in the omnibus appropriations package requiring EPA give a full account, including where the flyovers took place, how much they cost and how many were conducted. Johanns first asked questions about EPA’s use of aerial surveillance to monitor agriculture operations in a letter to the agency’s former administrator in 2012 and has since resubmitted nearly a half dozen requests, most recently during a committee hearing last year.
“For an Administration that publicly pats itself on the back for transparency, EPA has done nothing but try to keep these flyovers in the shadows,” Johanns said. “It’s unfortunate that Congress had to step in for EPA to simply reveal when, where, and how they are using taxpayer dollars to snoop on Americans. They were given numerous opportunities to be upfront, but instead chose to give flippant, snarky answers even going as far as to deny the existence of flyover records.”
The omnibus clarifying report language requires EPA to, “submit a report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 180 days of enactment of this Act that identifies by fiscal year: the amount of funding spent to contract for aerial over-flights, the contractor performing the work, the number of flights performed, geographical areas (county and State) that the contracted flights surveyed, and data that identifies by fiscal year the number of enforcement actions where aerial survey information was utilized as contributing evidence, and the outcome of each action. The report shall include data from fiscal year 2003 to fiscal year 2013.”
Johanns sent multiple letters requesting information, which EPA, in response, refused to provide a national account of the program. Johanns also offered an amendment during the Senate’s farm bill debate requiring EPA to stop the program. The amendment earned the support of 56 Senators, including 10 Democrats, sending a strong message that EPA must be accountable to Americans.