The Waters of the US Rule on hold after GAO investigation
Washington--The Environmental Protection Agency engaged in “covert propaganda” in violation of federal law by conducting a social media campaign aimed at increasing support for a controversial rule on water quality, the Government Accountability Office said in an opinion Monday.
“The Environmental Protection Agency violated publicity or propaganda and anti-lobbying provisions contained in appropriations acts with its use of certain social media platforms in association with its ‘Waters of the United States’ rulemaking in fiscal years 2014 and 2015,” the GAO said in the opinion.
“Specifically, EPA violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition though 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. 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,” the GAO said.
Auditors also found that the agency violated anti-lobbying provisions by including on its blog hyperlinks to external web pages urging the public to contact Congress in support of the WOTUS rule.
An EPA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email Monday afternoon seeking comment.
The rule, promulgated by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, broadened those agencies’ authority over navigable waters to include upstream waters and intermittent and ephemeral streams. Opponents say it is an act of federal overreach that could force landowners to get EPA approval to irrigate crops or drain fields.
The GAO launched an investigation after The New York Times reported in May on the agency’s social media campaign in support of the rule.
“We applaud U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe for asking GAO to conduct this investigation. The GAO findings vindicate those, like the American Farm Bureau Federation, who have claimed all along that EPA’s tactics advocating for this rule stepped past the bounds of proper agency rulemaking. EPA was focused only on promoting the rule rather than hearing good-faith concerns from a wide cross-section of Americans. The public deserves better when important matters of public policy are at stake,” said American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman.