- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2015

When the Environmental Protection Agency launched a social media blitz touting its hotly contested proposal to expand its water regulatory authority, Republicans accused the agency of breaking the law by spreading propaganda on the public dime.

It turns out they were right. A Government Accountability Office report released Monday found that the EPA used taxpayer funds to engage in “covert propaganda” and grass-roots lobbying in violation of federal law.

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,” Sen. James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said in a statement.

Sen. Daniel Sullivan, Alaska Republican, added: “The EPA consistently earns its moniker as a ‘rogue agency,’ with its persistent disregard for the rule of law.”

The GAO legal opinion, requested by Senate Republicans in April, centered on the EPA’s attempt to drum up public support for its Waters of the U.S. [WOTUS] rule, which would expand the agency’s regulatory authority to ponds, ditches and waterways.

According to the GAO, the EPA campaign engaged in “covert propaganda” in violation of federal law by creating a page, “I Choose Clean Water,” on the crowd-speaking platform Thunderclap.

“As explained below, we conclude that EPA’s use of Thunderclap constitutes covert propaganda, in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition,” said the 26-page report by GAO General Counsel Susan A. Poling.

The agency’s hyperlinks to Natural Resources Defense Council and Surfrider Foundation websites championing the WOTUS rule violated federal prohibitions on lobbying. Both pages asked readers to contact Congress and lawmakers in support of the rule.

“The fact that the linked content was not EPA’s does not excuse the agency from responsibility for its own message,” the report said. “Here EPA conveyed a message through the expressive act of facilitating access to the NRDC and Surfrider Foundation webpages, especially during an atmosphere of ongoing public debate over the rule.”

EPA deputy press secretary Monica Lee responded with a statement, saying: “We disagree with their assessment, and we will fulfill whatever reporting requirements are necessary.”

“At no point did the EPA encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature,” the agency said.

The report recommends that EPA report the violations to President Obama and Congress as required under the Antideficiency Act.

The EPA statement noted that the GAO found two of the agency’s social media campaigns — #DitchtheMyths and #CleanWaterRules — were “legal under the provisions.”

“We maintain that using social media to educate the public about our work is an integral part of our mission,” the EPA statement said. “We have an obligation to inform all stakeholders about environmental issues and encourage participation in the rule-making process. We use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities.”

A federal judge granted a temporary injunction on the WOTUS rule in May pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by 22 states.

Philip Ellis, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said the EPA messages spread via Thunderclap “was clearly intended to deceive the public to engage in the spread of EPA’s propaganda without consideration of the rule-making process.”

Through the Thunderclap site, which spreads messages across Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts at the same time, the EPA reached as many as 1.8 million people with its message, the report said.

GAO’s findings independently confirm that the EPA is willing to break the law in order to implement this administration’s extreme environmental agenda,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

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