Rehberg backs off claim of EPA drone surveillanc

BILLINGS – Two weeks after telling the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to ground surveillance drones allegedly spying on American farmers and ranchers, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., acknowledged the drones don’t exist.

In a statement issued by his office Monday, Rehberg acknowledged there aren’t any drones spying on farms and ranches to enforce the Clean Water Act. Rehberg’s staff blamed President Barack Obama for the mix-up.

“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,” wrote Jed Link, Rehberg’s spokesman. “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 asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to immediately end the policy of using unmanned drones to monitor farms and ranches in a strongly worded June 6 letter. Rehberg said the EPA was using drones to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The drone story had been circulating for several days in the right-wing media before Rehberg wrote Jackson.

Conservative talk radio host Alex Jones published the bogus drone story on his website on June 4, complete with a photograph of a military drone flying through blue skies.

The next day, the New American, a biweekly owned by the ultra-conservative John Birch Society, reported the bogus drone story. That story credited Nebraska’s congressional delegation for the news. The gist of the New American story was that drones were being used to spy on large feedlots where cattle urine and feces are highly concentrated and potentially threaten water supplies.

On June 6, the story was picked up by the Daily Caller, a news site founded by Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel, former chief policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. The Daily Caller made the news last week when its reporter Neil Munro heckled Obama during a White House news conference in the Rose Garden.

Investors Business Daily also picked up the story. Montanans might recognize the politically conservative publication’s featured columnist, Andrew Malcolm, former communications director for former Republican Gov. Marc Racicot.

Fox News also reported that the EPA was using military-style drones to spy on farms and ranches in the Midwest. Fox linked the bogus EPA drones to U.S. military drone use.

“Even an American terrorist, an American al-Qaida, was killed by a drone. So now you’re in the Midwest, and you know you’re not a terrorist, but nonetheless, you gotta get a little squeamish when you see a drone going overhead,” Fox host Megyn Kelly told viewers.

Link didn’t identify which news source Rehberg used before issuing the June 6 news release. The spokesman asked the Gazette to submit any questions by email, to which Rehberg’s office didn’t respond.

“We can only go so far with what we read in the news,” Link said of Rehberg’s June 6 letter.

Although the EPA does not use surveillance drones, the agency does use manned airplanes to monitor potential pollution sources in the Midwest, a practice the agency said began 10 years ago under President George W. Bush. (6.19.2012, om Lutey)

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