Government investigators determined the Environmental Protection Agency violated federal anti-lobbying laws in order to build support for its own regulatory agenda over Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.
The Government Accountability Office determined EPA’s Thunderclap social media campaign constituted “covert propaganda, in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition.” EPA illegally linked to environmentalists websites with petitions for people to contact Congress to support more federal control of U.S. waterways.
“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,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe says in a statement on the GAO’s report.
“EPA officials act as if the law does not apply to them, but this GAO opinion should serve as another reminder that EPA officials are not above the law,” says Inhofe, who requested the GAO investigate EPA’s Thunderclap campaign.
Republicans have long argued EPA likely broke the law by coordinating with environmental groups to get supporters to file regulatory comments and write to Congress in support of increased federal control over bodies of water — EPA control that is.
Worries about EPA lobbying surfaced after New York Times reporter Coral Davenport reported the agency “orchestrated a drive to counter political opposition from Republicans and enlist public support in concert with liberal environmental groups and a grassroots organization aligned with President Obama.”
Davenport’s May article cast light on EPA claims that 90 percent of the one million public comments it received about its water rule were positive. Davenport found the “E.P.A. had a hand in manufacturing” this alleged public support.
The Times report troubled Republican lawmakers, who overwhelmingly opposed the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule. The GOP argued EPA’s water rule is a “power grab” that could extend more federal control over private property.
EPA used Thunderclap — an online tool to amplify social media posts so they reach more people — to bring anyone who clicked on its posts to websites hosted by the Natural Resource Defense Council and Surfrider Foundation, asking people to tell their federal representatives to support federal water rules.
“We conclude that EPA violated the anti-lobbying provisions contained in appropriations acts for FY 2015 when it obligated and expended funds in connection with establishing the hyperlinks to the webpages of environmental action groups,” GAO writes.
“Because EPA obligated and expended appropriated funds in violation of specific prohibitions, we also conclude that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1)(A), as the agency’s appropriations were not available for these prohibited purposes,” GAO adds.
GAO’s report also fuels suspicions of EPA’s cozy relationship with environmental activists, like National Resources Defense Council and Surfrider. For years, Republicans have been delving into the intricate and cozy relationship between EPA officials and environmental groups, which activists use to raise money and push their donors’ agendas.
“GAO’s determination that EPA violated the ban on covert propaganda and grassroots lobbying is especially troubling,” Inhofe says. “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.”
EPA spokeswoman Monica Lee sent an emailed statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation responding to the claims:
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. 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.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 webpage 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 purpose of seeking comment on the Clean Water Rule and all such proposals is to invigorate the process with new information and new perspectives. The public comment process is not only required by law, in this instance, but most often leads to stronger and better rules, based on science and the law. The agency learns from an engaged citizenry, and to do this, we ask for their input.
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