EPA Broke Law by Using Social Media to Push Water Rule, Auditor Finds
Eric Lipton and Michael D. Shear
The New York Times
December 14, 2015
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency engaged in “covert propaganda” in violation of federal law when it blitzed social media to urge the general public to support President Barack Obama’s controversial rule intended to better protect the nation’s streams and surface waters, congressional auditors have concluded.
The ruling by the Government Accountability Office, which opened its investigation after a report in The New York Times on the agency’s practices, served as a cautionary tale to federal agencies about the perils of getting too active in using social media to push a cause. Federal laws prohibit agencies from engaging in lobbying and propaganda.
It also emerged as Republican leaders moved to block the so-called Waters of the United States clean-water rule through an amendment to the enormous spending bill expected to pass in Congress this week.
“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. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee who is pressing to block the rule, said in a statement Monday. “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 rule-making process and demonstrated how baseless this unprecedented expansion of EPA regulatory authority really is.”
The EPA rolled out a social media campaign on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and even on more innovative tools such as Thunderclap to counter opposition to its water rule, which imposes new restrictions on how land near certain surface waters can be used. The agency said the rule would prevent pollution in drinking water sources. Farmers, business groups and Republicans have called the rule flagrant government overreach.