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EPA accused of WOTUS propaganda violations

GAO finds EPA's use of social media tools violated publicity provisions

Commentary

"At issue here is whether EPA violated publicity or propaganda and anti-lobbying provisions…" regarding appropriations from Congress (GAO letter December 14, 2015, to U.S. Senator James M. Inhofe.)

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded EPA violated the 'propaganda prohibition" of a federal statute.  GAO said, "No part of any part of appropriation contained in this or any other act shall be used directly or indirectly, including by private contractor, for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States…" Violation creates criminal sanctions.

The GAO was requested by Sen. Inhofe, R, Okla., to investigate EPA's activities regarding its promulgating the "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rule. WOTUS has generated enormous opposition from the agriculture community.

GAO clearly finds EPA engaging in propaganda. This should not be a surprise. What is a surprise is that EPA was so blatant in using taxpayer money to combat opposition to WOTUS. GAO found EPA used several social media platforms to facilitate opposition to WOTUS. EPA developed four social media campaigns, including Thunderclap, the#DitchtheMyth Campaign, the #CleanWaterRules Campaign, and external websites such as Natural Resources Defense Council and the Surfrider Foundation blog post.      

GAO describes Thunderclap as "a 'crowdspeaking platform' that allows a single message to be shared across multiple Facebook Twitter, and Tumblr accounts at the same time.

The plot thickens…
Thunderclap, according to GAO, is where an organizer on the site creates a supporter goal of several hundred supporters. If the supporter goal is attained, Thunderclap automatically posts a message on the social media accounts on the same date and same time. Thunderclap will then post the message as drafted by the organizer although an individual supporter apparently has the option of customizing the original message.

EPA created a Thunderclap campaign titled "I Choose Clean Water". EPA did not attempt to hide its profile. EPA said to its supporters that "…60 percent of the streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country aren't clearly protected from pollution and destruction. In fact, one in three – 117 million of us – get our drinking waters from streams that are vulnerable."

The post says that EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers want to strengthen and protect clean water rules. When EPA met its Thunderclap goal, each supporter was sent a message stating "Clean water is important to me. I support EPA's efforts to protect it for my health, my family, and my community." This message in turn was sent to EPA's website where EPA could then say that it had enormous support for WOTUS. In fact, EPA said to Thunderclap users that it wanted everyone to get their friends to voice their support. EPA said "Help us send a strong message about supporting clean water." GAO estimated EPA's Thunderclap message reached approximately 1.8 million people. 

A second EPA campaign was entitled "#DitchtheMyth. This effort clearly attempted to attack the American Farm Bureau's "Ditch the Rule" campaign. AFBF President Bob Stallman declared WOTUS to be "the biggest federal land grab – in terms of power over land use – that we've seen to date."    

EPA's Administrator, Gina McCarthy, has said frequently the WOTUS rule does not significantly expand EPA's authority. 

EPA was so blatant in its propaganda campaign that it provided hyperlinks to two extreme environmental groups – NRDC and Surfrider Foundation. EPA hyperlinked to a site on Surfrider's website which declared "Federal lawmakers in DC are trying to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from restoring Clean Water Act (CWA) protection for nearly 20 million acres of wetlands, two million miles of streams and the drinking water for 117 million Americans." EPA had a blogger created an alliance for brewers, and NRDC also had a "Brewers for Clean Water" site.

GAO found that EPA did not have the authority "…to overcome the publicity or propaganda restrictions…" on the use of appropriated funds. EPA, on the other hand, said in its response it did not include any appeals to contact Congress regarding the pending WOTUS legislation. GAO said that it simply rejected EPA's interpretation as untrue.

Susan Poling, General Counsel of GAO, wrote in her letter to Sen. Inhofe that EPA violated prohibitions against using taxpayer money for propaganda, and that EPA had violated the GAO's Antideficiency Act and the agency's appropriations authority. 34 U.S. Code Sec 1350 provides a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for not more than two years for violation of the Antideficiency Act!

Do you think EPA will pay, or that anyone will go to jail over this?

Related: GAO finds EPA violated promotion regulations regarding WOTUS

TAGS: EPA
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