The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has determined the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broke the law on multiple occasions with what it termed “covert propaganda”n support of a powerful, controversial regulation expanding the EPA’s power over isolated bodies of water and temporary, ephemeral wetlands and streams.
Numerous businesses and trade groups, farmers and agricultural interests, local, state and federal legislators and public officials objected to the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, challenging it in court, as a massive power grab by the federal government. The Sixth Circuit Court of appeals issued a nationwide stay on the rule in early October.
Now, the GAO found a pair of EPA social media campaigns in support of WOTUS rule broke laws prohibiting federal agencies from promoting or lobbying for their own actions. In particular GAO faulted the EPA for using Thunderclap, a social media amplification tool, to recruit hundreds of Twitter users to tweet in support of the rule. It also said EPA broke the law with a blog post linking to two environmental groups’ pages urging readers to contact members of Congress to oppose legislation.
“We conclude that EPA’s use of Thunderclap constituted covert propaganda, in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition,” GAO wrote.
“We also conclude that EPA hyperlinks to the [Natural Resources Defense Council] and Surfrider Foundation webpages provided in the EPA blog post constitute grassroots lobbying, in violation of the grassroots lobbying prohibition.”
The EPA’s efforts also violated legal prohibitions on spending government resources not already appropriated, the GAO found.
WOTUS in Congress’s Crosshairs
The GAO’s December 14 ruling is sure to add fuel to Republican efforts to prevent funding for the rule as part of the government end of year spending bill. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who had requested the GAO investigation, said the decision vindicated the efforts of those who cried foul over the Obama administration’s aggressive multi-media efforts to build support for the water rule.
“GAO’s finding confirms what I have long suspected, that EPA will go to extreme lengths and even violate the law to promote its activist environmental agenda,” Inhofe said in a statement. “EPA’s illegal attempts to manufacture public support for its waters of the United States rule and sway congressional opinion regarding legislation to address that rule have undermined the integrity of the rulemaking process and demonstrated how baseless this unprecedented expansion of EPA regulatory authority really is.”
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
Government Accountability Office, “nvironmental Protection Agency Application of Publicity or Propaganda and Anti-Lobbying Provisions;” December 14, 2015, https://heartland.org/policy-documents/gao-report-illegal-epa-wotus-lobbying-efforts