Farm groups say GAO report on EPA proves WOTUS flawed
Two key farm groups said Monday that a Government Accountability Office report saying the Environmental Protection Agency illegally used social media to promote the Waters of the United States rule proved that WOTUS — also known as the Clean Water Rule — is flawed, but EPA defended itself against the report.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., requested the investigation.
GAO said EPA violated provisions of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act. 2014, which prohibits the use of EPA’s appropriations for unauthorized publicity or propaganda purposes and also prohibits the use of agency resources for indirect or grassroots lobbying.
The GAO’s general counsel advised the EPA to report the violations and the costs associated with the violation of the law to the president and Congress, with a copy to the comptroller general, as required by the Antideficiency Act.
But an EPA spokeswoman said, “We disagree with their assessment, and we will fulfill whatever reporting requirements are necessary.”
“We maintain that using social media to educate the public about our work is an integral part of our mission,” the spokeswoman said.
“We have an obligation to inform all stakeholders about environmental issues and encourage participation in the rulemaking process. We use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities,” she said.
“Our social media activity simply directed the recipient to the general webpage about the Clean Water Rule. EVERY stakeholder and EVERY stakeholder group —whether they supported or opposed the rule — was provided the same link to the general web page on education and outreach materials, emails, and presentations, and were told the deadline for submitting public comments and how to do so.
“At no point did the EPA encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature.”
The GAO found that the EPA’s use of Thunderclap, in which a single social media message can be shared across multiple Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts at the same time, was a prohibited use of EPA’s appropriations.
But the EPA spokeswoman also noted that GAO had agreed that EPA’s #DitchtheMyth and #CleanWaterRules campaigns were legal, and that EPA did not mention specific legislation in any of its social media.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a release, “It’s clear from this report that EPA orchestrated this matter in a biased fashion. Now it’s up to Congress to clean up this mess by including a corrective measure in the omnibus bill now taking shape on Capitol Hill.”
“Courts already have declared serious doubts about the legal authority for the rule,” Stallman continued. “Now that it has become clear that the agency used illegal tactics to manufacture ill-informed support for the rule, Congress should act immediately to prohibit implementation of this rule, which is the product of an unlawful and misguided process.”
“We applaud U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe for asking GAO to conduct this investigation,” he added.
“The GAO findings vindicate those, like the American Farm Bureau Federation, who have claimed all along that EPA’s tactics advocating for this rule stepped past the bounds of proper agency rulemaking. EPA was focused only on promoting the rule rather than hearing good-faith concerns from a wide cross-section of Americans. The public deserves better when important matters of public policy are at stake.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Philip Ellis said, “The WOTUS rule is a flawed rule from a flawed process, and we thank Sen. Inhofe for calling attention to this clear violation of the law. The EPA’s zealous advocacy of their rule in violation of federal law shows the extremes to which this administration will go to subvert public opinion in favor of their far-reaching environmental agenda.”
–The Hagstrom Report