Federal lawmakers are furious with the Environmental Protection Agency for funding billboards that accuse farmers in Washington state of polluting local waterways.
A coalition of environmental groups and an American Indian tribe used EPA funds to put up two billboards as part of a campaign to link water pollution to agricultural activities. Capital Press recently reported the billboards likely violated the terms of the grant given to activists by EPA. The agency’s funding of environmentalists’ anti-farming campaign could also amount to lobbying, according to the paper.
“This disturbing billboard is a bold example of exactly what America’s farmers and ranchers complain about all the time: the EPA has an agenda antagonistic to producers,” Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts said in a statement. Roberts is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
“Whether it’s overly burdensome and costly regulations or something as obvious as this this malicious billboard, the EPA has much to answer for in maligning those that grow the food and fiber to feed the world,” Roberts said. “Our farmers and ranchers are stewards of the land and want to see our natural resources protected as much as any other American.”
Capital Press reported Friday EPA funded two billboards in the greater area outside Seattle, Washington — one in Olympia and another in Bellingham — claiming “unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk.” The billboards tell people to go to WhatsUpStream.com to learn more — a webpage that asks visitors to “take action” by sending a pre-written letter to their state represenative.
An EPA policy adviser noted the billboards likely violated the terms of the federal grant given to activists because they don’t disclose they were funded with federal dollars, according to Capital Press.
EPA, however, has denied the agency was engaged in lobbying by funding the signs because they don’t advocate or oppose specific legislation — despite linking to a webpage advocating for new laws on stream buffers for agriculture.
“I continue to be amazed that they say What’s Upstream is not politically motivated, is not a political attack,” Gerald Baron, the director of Save Family Farming, told Capital Press. “Our primary concern is still that it’s giving an entirely false impression of farmers and regulations.”
Likewise, Roberts said he wants answers on why EPA funding was going towards an environmentalist campaign targeting agriculture.
“While there are legal concerns with the lack of disclosure of EPA’s involvement, the billboard is another example of EPA’s improper practice of encouraging the lobbying of legislators,” he said. “How and why the EPA has allowed taxpayer dollars to be used to attack any industry, including our vital agriculture producers, demands answers.”
This isn’t the first time EPA may have been engaged in activism. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found EPA violated anti-lobbying laws while promoting its “Waters of the United States” rule last year.
GAO determined EPA’s Thunderclap social media campaign constituted “covert propaganda, in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition.” EPA illegally linked to environmentalist activist websites with petitions for people to contact Congress to support more federal control of U.S. waterways.
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 report.
EPA disagreed. The agency pushed back against the GAO’s report and denied any wrongdoing.
“We maintain that using social media to educate the public about our work is an integral part of our mission,” EPA told The Daily Caller News Foundation in December. “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.”
Update: An EPA spokeswoman sent the following statement to TheDCNF in response to this article.
The tone and content of this outside campaign does not represent the views of EPA. EPA spends an enormous amount of time and resources on efforts to work with farmers, tribes and other stakeholders on collaborative efforts to improve water quality. The grant being used to fund the billboard was awarded to a consortium to be directed at endangered salmon recovery efforts. The grant also authorized a public education element. The consortium made a sub-award for a campaign which should not be using EPA funds. We are in the process of correcting that.
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