GAO to review whether EPA violated anti-propaganda law
Congress’s watchdog agency is examining whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated legal provisions prohibiting lobbying and propaganda using agency resources.
At issue is a video produced by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, in which EPA head Scott Pruitt participated. The video told NCBA members to file comments with the agency on its proposal to revise former President Obama’s controversial Clean Water Rule.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) told Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) last week, in a letter he made available late Friday, that it agreed with his request to look into the matter.
The EPA is prohibited by appropriations legislation from using its resources to lobby Congress on ongoing legislative matters or to fund propaganda.
In the NCBA video, Pruitt outlines his objections to the Obama rule, which redefined the jurisdiction of the EPA over water bodies for the purposes of pollution prevention. Many industries oppose the rule, including agriculture, homebuilding and fossil fuels.
“We’re trying to fix the challenges from the 2015 rule, where the Obama administration reimagined their authority under the Clean Water Act and defined a Water of the United States as being a puddle, a dry creek bed and ephemeral drainage ditches across this country,” he said in the video.
“We want farmers and ranchers across this country to provide comments.”
DeFazio, the top Democrat in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee — which has jurisdiction over the EPA’s water programs — asked the GAO to examine the issue last month. He noted that the NCBA’s page includes explicit statements opposing the 2015 rule and advocating for visitors to file comments against it.
“We are deeply troubled that these recent EPA actions are the latest examples of EPA’s inappropriate use of taxpayer resources,” DeFazio wrote along with three other Democrats representing various key committees.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman defended Pruitt’s participation, saying the agency’s “commitment to an open, transparent process to redefine WOTUS includes engagement with all stakeholders.”
The agency told E&E News in August that there was “no cost” for Pruitt to participate in the video.
In response to a question about whether ethics officials approved Pruitt’s appearance, a spokeswoman told E&E “it’s absurd that E&E thinks we need their permission on what media outlets we can accept interview requests from.”
The GAO previously ruled that the EPA under Obama violated the lobbying and propaganda rules.
That determination was based on activities surrounding the same water rule. The EPA at the time disagreed with the GAO and denied that it violated the law at issue.
Since the lobbying and propaganda provisions are in spending legislation, violations are treated as if the agency spent federal funds that were not appropriated.