DES MOINES — Midwest ranchers have never been enamored with environmental regulators, but they really began to complain after learning federal inspectors were flying over to look for problems.
The Environmental Protection Agency flies over power plants and other facilities nationwide to identify potential air, water, and land pollution. It began using aerial surveillance in the Midwest in 2010 to check farms for violations of federal clean water regulations.
Ranchers who object to the program said they are not trying to hide anything. It’s the quiet approach the EPA took with the program designed to spot illegal disposal of animal waste that they find upsetting. Most were not even aware of the flyovers until regional EPA officials mentioned it at a meeting three months ago.
‘‘For me, it just creeps into the ‘Big Brother is watching you’ area, to where the government just feels like it’s getting more and more intrusive,’’ said Buck Wehrbein, who manages a cattle feeding operation in Mead, Neb.
EPA officials explained during a meeting with ranchers in West Point, Neb., that they lease small planes that fly EPA staffers over cattle operations. The staffers take photographs as they seek evidence of illegal animal waste running off into rivers and streams.