By Dustin Hurst ǀ Watchdog.org
HELENA — Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and GOP U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg might share little in the way of politics and policies as they battle to be Montana’s next U.S. senator, but the duo holds one common trait: paranoia over the Environmental Protection Agency.
In the past few weeks, Rehberg and Tester have put their paranoia on display, each man touting his records or writing letters about standing up to the EPA.
Most recently, Rehberg put his unfounded worry on display.
In a June 6 letter to the EPA, the congressman demanded the EPA end a program that spied on private farmers and ranchers, a large Treasure State constituency. Rehberg said the drones violated Montanans’ right to privacy and represented government overreach.
The problem is the program doesn’t exist.
It turns out, as the Washington Post notes, the EPA is using small, private planes to perform aerial inspections of farmland. Bureau officials looking out for clean water violations and other environmental infractures, and air surveillance is the cheapest manner to achieve it.
A Nebraska farmer originally complained about the aerial surveillance and the state’s congressional delegation, Democrats and Republicans included, wrote EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for more information on the program.
But Nebraska’s five U.S. lawmakers never mentioned drones.
Still, that didn’t stop Rehberg from pushing the falsehood.
“Just because some big cities think it’s a good idea to enforce laws using 24-hour surveillance cameras on every street corner doesn’t mean that approach will fly over ranches and farms in Montana,” Rehberg said in a news release.
Once revealed that the drone claim was a
myth, Jed Link, the congressman’s spokesman, backed away from, but somehow blamed President Barack Obama for the blunder.
“The Obama Administration rarely reveals its secretive plans to anyone but its closest allies. Since Denny doesn’t vote with the President 95 percent of the time, he must often rely on news reports and constituent input,” Link wrote to The Missoulian. “In this case, Denny heard from concerned Montanans, saw reports in the media and took the responsible first step — asking the EPA about it.
Rehberg isn’t alone in acting on unfounded EPA rumors, however.
At the first Senate debate in Big Sky last week, Tester touted push back against the EPA’s efforts to tighten federal rules regulating farm dust.
In December 2011, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican from South Dakota, led an effort to stop the EPA from increasing farm dust regulations. The GOP-controlled House passed House Resolution 1633 to prevent the federal agency from acting on its farm plans. Rehberg, who co-sponsored the measure, voted for it, enabling its passage on the House floor.
The U.S. Senate never addressed the legislation, but a group of senators — including Tester — wrote a letter asking the agency to back off its plan just 10 months earlier.
But farm dust, like the drone surveillance, was just another myth.
The EPA regulates dust kicked up through farming activities and has since 1987. Last year, the agency did consider changes to clean air standards, which could have included tightened rules, but Jackson told the Senate Agricultural Committee in June that it had not been formally proposed formally.
A month earlier on a tour of farm-centric states, Jackson sought to tamp down the myth while meeting with ranchers and farmers.
Jackson and her agency finally put the misconception to bed when it officially confirmed what she said through the year — the EPA had no plans to tighten air quality regulations.
Tester basked in the glow of a political win after Jackson’s statement.
“I’m pleased the administration heeded my call to back off of increasing regulation on farm dust so that farmers can keep doing their jobs,” Tester, a farmer from Big Sandy, wrote on his Senate website. “My equipment kicks up dust almost every time I’m in the fields.”
Still, the House moved forward with the anti-dust regulation farm bill and passed it, only to be mocked by Democrats.
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland’s 5th District , said the bill was utterly useless. “We are once again doing a bill that is not necessary and has no effect,” Hoyer said about the issue at a news conference.
On the House floor, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, of Massachusetts’ 7th District, slammed the legislation. “This bill should be relegated to the dustbin of similar urgent urban legends,” Markey said.
Markey added, tongue in cheek, that the EPA would next seek to monitor “fairy dust.”
Upon its passage, Rehberg celebrated the anti-dust regulation bill.
“This bill is just good old-fashioned common sense,” Rehberg wrote. “Driving on dirt roads between fields in Montana shouldn’t require expensive regulatory compliance efforts, and this bill will force the EPA to consider that what works in the big cities probably isn’t going to work in Montana. I hope the Senate will act on this quickly.”