On Monday (Dec. 14), the Government Accountability office ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s social media campaign to increase support for its Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS) broke the law by engaging in “covert propaganda.”
In August, Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-1) joined more than 100 bipartisan lawmakers in sending a letter (attached) to the EPA’s Inspector General. The letter requested that the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) open a formal investigation into its unprecedented grassroots lobbying effort. The request was referred from the EPA’s Inspector General to the Government Accountability Office, which found that the EPA engaged in propaganda and used federal resources to conduct grass-roots lobbying, both illegal activities for a government agency.
After the news broke, Rep. Crawford released the following statement:
"The rulemaking process follows democratic principles for a reason, the affected public needs to be able to either support or oppose rules like WOTUS that affect their everyday lives. Unelected agency officials, in a brazen attempt to skew levels of support for the rule, perverted that process and got caught. The personnel responsible at the EPA must be held accountable for this criminal violation.
“When your own agency has to illegally manufacture support for its own out-of-touch agenda, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. It’s time to scrap the rule and start over, this time listening to public feedback and creating a rule that reflects their genuine concerns."
According to a May 19, 2015 New York Times report, the EPA engaged in a grassroots solicitation for public comments intended to generate public comments in support of its Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule-making. The EPA apparently used an assortment of social media campaigns to solicit comments and colluded with environmental and grassroots organizations -- like the Sierra Club and Organizing for America -- to promote the rule. The most essential and democratic component of the rule-making process, the public notice and comment process, was abused and corrupted in a way that drowned out opposition to help justify the agency’s actions.
The EPA consistently made claims that it had received over one million comments on the rule, and about 90 percent of them were supportive. However, according the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, only 20,567 of those comments were considered “unique,” and of those, only 10 percent were considered substantive. The vast majority of comments -- more than 98 percent -- appeared to be mass mailings generated by the EPA’s lobbying efforts.