Sustained Outrage

There’s an interesting lineup of bills scheduled for markup tomorrow before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (where our friend Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., is the ranking minority member). They bills have names like the Preservering Rural Resources Act of 2012  and the Mille Lacs Lake Freedom to Fish Act of 2012. UPDATED: The committee has postponed action on this bill.

But the one that jumped out at me was Farmer’s Privacy Act of 2012, sponsored by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Now, when we last left Rep. Capito, she was spreading untruths about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its alleged efforts to regulate milks spills from dairy farms, in an act that got her big laughs from her friends from the West Virginia Coal Association.

Rep. Capito’s latest bill would:

… Stop the EPA from conducting aerial surveillance of farms across the country.

There’s been a lot of drummed-up outrage about EPA using planes and/or helicopters to fly over farming areas of West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands, fueled in part by press reports that have wrongly said the agency was using “drone” aircraft for this inspection work. The issue has become one of those things — like Rep. Capito’s “spilled milk” nonsense — that is repeated over and over until everyone assumes it’s true. It’s even spawned an AP story in Kentucky that wrongly gives the impression that the mining industry was surprised to learn that regulators use flyovers as part of the process of inspection mountaintop removal operations.

Now, EPA has explained why it was using flyovers for farming inspections:

Aerial over-flights are only one of many tools that are used as part of the compliance assurance process to identify discharging sources that may impact water quality. The EPA may also review geographic and mapping information that are readily available to the public on the internet. Over-flights and other sources may provide information regarding the general condition of a farm such as size, storm water management features, manure management systems and proximity to waterways. Information on the internet may be historical and therefore may need additional verification in order to assess whether the information is current and correct. Verification may be done through drive-bys, aerial over-flights, on-site inspections, or other means.

The EPA uses aircraft in a variety of ways to identify potential air, water and land pollution and to verify compliance with environmental laws. For example, aircraft may be used to locate regulated facilities, identify discharges, learn about water connections and pathways, and gather evidence, such as photographs and exact locations. The EPA has used aircraft in enforcement investigations throughout the country to monitor compliance within the agriculture, mining, and construction industries, among others. The EPA and other agencies also use aircraft for other purposes, including emergency response, to assess the pathway of oil and extent of damage resulting from an oil spill.

But what we haven’t seen is one coherent and fact-based explanation from Rep. Capito of why these sorts of inspections are such a bad thing — any sort of reasoned argument for why they should be banned by Congress.  The best we got was this quote from Rep. Capito’s press release (headlined, “Somebody’s Watching You”):

Unemployment has been at or above 8% for 30 consecutive months.  Is conducting flyovers of family farms across the country really the best use of taxpayer money?  It’s getting to the point that I’ll have to file for a Clean Water Act permit if I want to turn the hose on in my backyard.  The EPA will take any opportunity to make it harder for farmers, energy operators, or any business that deals with the EPA, to operate.

Of course, as even the State Journal noted, the EPA hasn’t proposed requiring a Clean Water Act permit to run a hose in the backyard. But when it comes to attacking environmental protection, some West Virginia political leaders aren’t concerned about facts.