This vote was on an amendment that would have allowed the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) to continue a controversial practice of using aircraft to enforce pollution laws – as long as it is found to be “cost-effective” and state officials are notified.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) offered the amendment during consideration of legislation that authorizes federal programs to assist farmers and low-income Americans. Sen. Boxer’s amendment was pitted against a competing amendment from Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) that sought to outlaw the EPA’s use of enforcement aircraft altogether. The issue came to light after farmers complained of the EPA’s use of manned aircraft to police violations of federal pollution law, such as farmers who pile manure in an area where it seeps into drinking water supplies. Unfounded rumors that the EPA was using unmanned drones had raised alarm further.
Sen. Boxer argued that the EPA uses small airplanes because it is often the cheapest way to check for pollution that could cause serious public health issues.
“This pollution could cause serious illness, and they want to make sure they can track the plume,” Sen. Boxer said. “We have heard of cryptosporidium, E. coli, and giardia. That is what we are talking about – terrible bacteria that sometimes comes from animals. In 1993, at least 50 people died from the bacteria cryptosporidium in Milwaukee, and it came from animal waste. The EPA has never used a drone, and they don't plan to, but don't stop them from using small aerial oversight.”
Sen. Johanns said he did not trust the EPA and had not been satisfied with the agency’s responses to his questions on the matter. The agency’s use of aircraft should be shut down entirely until it gives more satisfactory answers, he said.
“Given the EPA's recent track record with agriculture – if not downright contempt for it – farmers and ranchers simply don't trust the EPA. They could have done this program right and reached out to the congressional delegations in Nebraska and Iowa and said: ‘Here is what we are doing. Here is the plan.’ They did not,” Sen. Johanns said. “(Sen. Boxer’s amendment) maintains the status quo. This will change nothing. It will rubberstamp what they are doing.”
Sen. Boxer’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 47-48. Voting “yea” were 47 Democrats, including a majority of progressives. Voting “nay” were 44 Republicans and 4 Democrats. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration to continue a controversial practice of using aircraft to enforce pollution laws – as long as it is found to be “cost-effective” and state officials are notified.