Tuesday, December 15, 2015

EPA Broke the Law in Clean Water Push

The Environmental Protection Agency engaged in “covert propaganda” and violated federal law when it blitzed social media to urge the public to back an Obama administration rule intended to better protect the nation’s streams and surface waters, congressional auditors have concluded.

A ruling by the Government Accountability Office, which opened its investigation after a report on the agency’s practices in The New York Times, drew a bright line for federal agencies experimenting with social media about the perils of going too far to push a cause. Federal laws prohibit agencies from engaging in lobbying and propaganda.

“I can guarantee you that general counsels across the federal government are reading this report,” said Michael Eric Hertz, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York who has written on social media and the government.
I wouldn't call it "covert" propaganda, it's seemed pretty overt to me. The Bay news feed has been full of pro-clean water act articles pushed out by the EPA, and their bought and paid for "independent media", like the Bay Journal.
the legal opinion emerged just 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. While the G.A.O.’s findings are unlikely to lead to civil or criminal penalties, they do offer Republicans a cudgel for this week’s showdown.

“G.A.O.’s finding confirms what I have long suspected, that E.P.A. will go to extreme lengths and even violate the law to promote its activist environmental agenda,” Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is pressing to block the rule, said in a statement Monday. He decried “E.P.A.’s illegal attempts to manufacture public support for its Waters of the United States rule and sway congressional opinion.”
I rather suspect that in the EPA's mind they were thinking they were operating in a new gray area created by the proliferation of the social media and the internet. But we can imagine the furor that would be generated if a hypothetical conservative government agency (let's imagine the AEC in the good old days) used the media to promote changes in the laws to loosen restrictions on them.
The E.P.A. 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 effectively restricts 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 a flagrant case of government overreach.
. . .
Thomas Reynolds, who as E.P.A. communications director directed many of the tactics decried by the G.A.O., recently moved to the White House to push the president’s global warming message with many of the same tools he deployed at his former agency.
Do not expect to see anyone at EPA held accountable for this. The EPA is almost entirely staffed with "true believers" for whom the outcome is more important than the law and constitution, and outside the agency itself, it would require Barack Obama's Justice Department to take an interest in the violation, which I seriously doubt will happen.

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