EPA Violated Law when Promoting its Water Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) engaged in “covert propaganda” and violated federal law when it used social media for unauthorized publicity or propaganda purposes to gain support for its waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, according to a report released by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). The WOTUS rule extends federal jurisdiction to activities affecting small previously unregulated waterways, drainage areas, wetlands, and related upland areas. The rule provides the basis for federal regulation of various local activities, such as land development and agriculture.

Federal agencies are allowed to promote their own policies but may not engage in propaganda, defined as covert activity intended to influence the American public. They also are not allowed to use federal resources to conduct grass-roots lobbying by urging the public to contact Congress to take a certain kind of action on pending legislation.

“Specifically, EPA violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition through its use of a platform known as Thunderclap that allows a single message to be shared across multiple Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts at the same time,” the report states. “EPA engaged in covert propaganda when the agency did not identify EPA’s role as the creator of the Thunderclap message to the target audience.

“EPA also violated anti-lobbying provisions though its hyperlinks to certain external web pages in an EPA blog post,” the report continues. “Both of the external web pages led to appeals to the public to contact Congress in support of the WOTUS rule, which, taken in context, constituted appeals to contact Congress in opposition to pending legislation. EPA associated itself with these messages through its decision to include the hyperlinks in its blog post.”

EPA disputed the finding, saying in a statement that “we use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities.”

The GAO report can be found at www.gao.gov/assets/680/674163.pdf.

Meanwhile, Congress officially voted in mid-January to restrict EPA from enforcing its WOTUS rule. The House of Representatives took steps last year to overturn the rule completely, but a vote in the Senate fell just shy of the majority needed.

This time, Senate Joint Resolution 22 by Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) cleared the 60-vote majority to overcome a filibuster and was approved by the House on the same day by a vote of 253-166. Twelve Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in the House to pass the measure. President Barack Obama subsequently vetoed the measure. Although the resolution passed both chambers of Congress, it failed to receive the two-thirds majority that is necessary to override the president’s veto.

February 2016 RENDER | back