This vote was on an amendment that would have barred the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) from using small manned aircraft to enforce pollution laws.
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) offered the amendment during consideration of legislation that authorizes federal programs to assist farmers and low-income Americans. Sen. Johanns’ amendment would have put a stop to 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. The issue came to light when farmers complained about the practice.
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.
“Low-altitude surveillance flights over farmers' and ranchers' private property has caused bipartisan concern, and it is happening. EPA is flying these flights,” Sen. Johanns said. “What we are asking for is for the public to be advised of what they are doing. Until that happens, this amendment simply says: ‘Stop. You can't do this anymore until you let us know how you are using this information and for what purpose.’”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who opposed the amendment, argued that the EPA used small airplanes because it was often the cheapest way to check for pollution that could cause serious public health issues. Forcing EPA to end the flights would endanger lives, she said.
“Let me recall for you: Wisconsin, 1993, at least 50 people lost their lives from the bacteria cryptosporidium from animal waste. When you are following a plume, the way to do it is from the air. It is much more expensive in many cases to do ground inspection,” Sen. Boxer said. “This is life and death. We are talking about E. coli. We are talking about giardia and cryptosporidium. We are talking about the health and safety of the American people that is compromised from these kinds of animal waste.”
Even though Sen. Johanns’ amendment received 56 “yea” votes and only 43 voted “nay,” the amendment was defeated because it was brought up under Senate rules that require 60 votes for passage. Voting “yea” were 46 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 43 Democrats, including a majority of progressives. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to bar the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) from using small manned aircraft to enforce pollution laws.