EPA Aerial Surveillance Brings New Meaning to "Fly Over States"

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I guess EPA has never heard about the virtues of rural folks touted in Jason Aldean's new song

Published on: June 11, 2012

I’m a Country music fan. From my days cultivating corn, listening to the radio from fender speakers on our old Farmall 706 tractor, I have always been able to relate to those tunes.

Jason Aldean’s new hit song, “Fly Over States,” talks about the virtues of rural folks, the farmers who plant the seed. He talks about a couple of urbanites flying from New York to Los Angeles, chatting during their flight about the square corn fields and country roads below. They wonder out loud why anyone would want to live down there in those fly over states, those states urban folks believe are devoid of anything interesting that they have to fly over to get to the exciting metropolitan centers on either Coast.

BACK ROAD: One of those peaceful, beautiful back country roads in the middle of no where in the fly over states. This one happens to be on the edge of the Sandhills west of Elgin.
BACK ROAD: One of those peaceful, beautiful back country roads in the middle of no where in the fly over states. This one happens to be on the edge of the Sandhills west of Elgin.

Aldean says those guys have never driven through Indiana, or witnessed a harvest moon in Kansas or a sunset in Oklahoma. “That’s why God made those fly over states,” Aldean says.

Well, aerial surveillance by EPA operatives, flying over farms and feedlots to confirm regulation compliance with the Clean Water Act has brought a whole new meaning to the term, “fly over states.” Nebraska’s congressional delegation sent a letter to EPA on May 31, requesting more information about nine flyovers that have taken place in this fly over state since 2011. Director of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs for Nebraska Cattlemen, Kristen Hassebrook, contends in a recent NC release that the state’s beef producers “make decisions and take actions on their farms and ranches that benefit the quality of Nebraska’s water, soil and air.” They are the first and best stewards of the land on which they live and work.

She points out that, unlike other industries that are monitored from the sky, farmers have the unusual situation to live where they work. So, surveillance of farms also includes surveillance of homes, backyards, farm children’s playgrounds and a farmer’s personal space.

Hassebrook says that Nebraska’s producers have an excellent track record when it comes to environmental compliance. Certainly, if there is a need for improvements, EPA should work with producers to help them develop their operations to the benefit of the state’s natural resources, as Nebraska’s DEQ has been doing.

Reading over farmer comments and farm organization replies to the surveillance information, it appears many rural folks agree with Hassebrook and believe flyovers send the wrong message to consumers, who are already barraged with sensationalized, negative press about farm products and farmers.

To farmers who are big on honesty, trust and integrity, the whole idea of flyovers seems odd. We who live and work down here in those fly over states more closely resemble Jason Aldean’s song about the beauty and honest nature of rural America, than the opinions written in overblown media reports or offered in a conversation in an airplane by two apathetic urbanites.

EPA has responded, contending that it has authority to conduct flyovers, that there is precedent for such actions, that they are a cost-effective way of monitoring producers and that flyovers are only part of the monitoring package of information used in determining compliance. EPA has also acknowledged in recent interviews, not surprisingly, that the great majority of producers have been found in compliance. You can read more on the issue in an editorial by Nebraska Farmer editor, Don McCabe, from the May 2012 issue.

How do you feel about it?