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These Republicans Want The DOJ To See If EPA Officials Should Be In Jail

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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A pair of Republican senators want the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials “knowingly and willfully” violated federal law in a massive lobbying and PR campaign promoting the agency’s water rule.

If EPA officials did knowingly violate the federal Antideficiency Act, they could face some serious repercussions, including “a $5,000 fine and spend up to two years in prison,” according to the two GOP senators.

“Something is tremendously wrong when a federal agency thinks it can break the law and illegally spend taxpayer dollars,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe said. Inhofe and Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch Thursday urging her to investigate EPA’s actions.

“Given EPA’s continuing violations, and the cavalier attitude displayed by EPA public affairs staff and Department of Justice line attorneys, we request the Department of Justice immediately investigate whether a criminal violation of the Antideficiency Act has taken place,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Lynch. “Only a thorough and independent investigation can determine whether a crime has occurred.”

The senators’ letter comes after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined EPA’s campaign in support of its so-called Clean Water Rule constituted “covert propaganda” and was in volation of federal anti-lobbying laws.

EPA used Thunderclap — an online tool to amplify social media posts— to promote its water rule. Clicking on these Thunderclap posts would bring people to websites hosted by the Natural Resource Defense Council and Surfrider Foundation, asking people to tell their congress members to support EPA’s water rule.

“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 wrote in its December determination that the agency violated the Antideficiency Act.

EPA finalized its Clean Water Rule last year. The agency’s new rule vastly expands the definition of “waters of the United States” to include small bodies of water on private property, which could increase the costs of development across the country.

The EPA publicly disagreed with the GAO’s assessment, and said it would continue to promote its water rule. EPA lead spokeswoman Liz Purchia argued “a small but vocal group are grasping at anything to distract from and derail our progress.” Purchia further claimed opponents were trying to distract from the legally non-binding global warming deal hashed out in Paris in early December.

“EPA won’t back down from our mission,” Purchia wrote in a December blog post. “The public would be better served without these deliberate distractions, and with full attention focused on meeting our mission to protect the health of kids and families, and ensure our shared environment is clean and safe.”

Republican lawmakers are now pushing back against the agency’s refusal to to stop using tactics deemed illegal by the GAO. Inhofe and Sasse argue EPA’s actions highlight concerns lawmakers have over the agency’s cozy relationship with environmental activists, like National Resources Defense Council and Surfrider.

New York Times reporter Coral Davenport published an article in May detailing how EPA “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.”

[dcquiz] Davenport debunks EPA claims that 90 percent of the one million public comments it received about its water rule were positive. The reporter found the “E.P.A. had a hand in manufacturing” this alleged public support.

“Despite the fact that the Government Accountability Office found that they broke federal law by running a covert propaganda campaign to support their sweeping WOTUS rule, the EPA has doubled down on their lawlessness,” Sasse said. “It’s time for the Department of Justice to investigate.”

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