EPA’s CAFO overflights receive scrutiny

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) use of aerial overflights to inspect concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) was the focus of a meeting in northeast Nebraska this week.

Officials of EPA’s Region 7, which includes Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, met with area cattle feeders to explain and answer questions about the increasing use of aerial photography in their CAFO inspection program.   

In an interview with Brownfield, Josh Svaty of EPA defended the use of fly-overs, saying it’s a cost-effective way of looking for harmful discharges of pollutants from CAFOs into rivers and streams.

“It’s a very efficient use of taxpayer dollars,” Svaty says, “and it’s also a good way to look at a lot of CAFOs and AFOs all at once.”

AUDIO: Josh Svaty (2:49 MP3)

Cattle feeder Ron Coufal of Howells, Nebraska—president-elect of the Cuming County Feeders group—says the meeting helped to alleviate some of his concerns.

“I am kind of concerned, but after seeing the pictures here tonight at the meeting, I can see that it probably is saving our government money by having the overflights—and not going to every feedlot to see if they’re in compliance, but to pick out the ones that are causing the problems,” Coufal says.

AUDIO: Ron Coufal (2:19 MP3)

But for Kristen Hassebrook, director of natural resources and environmental studies for Nebraska Cattlemen, it’s a privacy issue.

Hassebrook acknowledges that EPA has litigated the authority to fly over and photograph businesses—but she says a feedlot is very different from a “pure business facility.”

“Someone’s home, their children’s playground, their decks where they have family parties, are generally right there, smack dab in the middle of their business,” Hassebrook says. “Even if it’s not their (EPA’s) primary focus, you still have privacy rights in your home–so I have serious reservations as to whether or not they should be taking such photos.”

And an even bigger issue, Hassebrook says, is EPA’s interpretation of its authority under the Clean Water Act.

AUDIO: Kristen Hassebrook (4:40 MP3)


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