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145 House Members Demand Answers from EPA on Anti-Farmer Campaign

April 20, 2016
Press Release
EPA funds used in anti-farmer campaign in Washington State

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX), and Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE) were joined by 142 Members on a bipartisan letter to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy. The Members request answers on EPA Region 10’s funding of whatsupstream.com website and advocacy campaign in Washington State that attempts to influence legislators for greater regulation of farmers and ranchers.

Rep. Newhouse: “Federal law is clear, and the EPA knows better than to be engaged in the misuse of taxpayer dollars for anti-farmer publicity campaigns that lobby for more regulations. Despite previous EPA violations of federal laws pertaining to funding propaganda, advocacy, and lobbying efforts, it is troubling that the EPA has allowed taxpayer funds to be used to attack farmers. The EPA must be held accountable to cooperate fully with oversight investigations and to end the pattern of taxpayer-funded lobbying efforts.”

Chairman Conaway: “This is one more example of the lack of appropriate oversight by EPA. I applaud Rep. Newhouse and many of my colleagues for holding EPA accountable for the unlawful misuse of federal funds. America’s farmers and ranchers deserve a government that will defend their cause and work to make sure it has a thriving future. These actions by EPA, however, do the opposite.”

Rep. Ashford: “I am disappointed in the actions taken by the EPA to lobby Washington State legislators using federal funds. With trust in our public officials at an all-time low, it is imperative that our federal agencies respect federal laws. I join my colleagues in the House and Senate to reprimand the EPA and call on them to fully cooperate with investigations. I do not want to see this misuse of federal funds impact other states, such as Nebraska.”

Background:

Earlier this month, the EPA admitted in news reports that it should not have funded a campaign in Washington State known as whatsupstream.com, due to that campaign’s brazen lobbying of state legislators in contravention of federal law. The whatsupstream.com campaign, which was wholly funded by the EPA, used grant awards to fund a website, radio ads, and billboards depicting dead fish and polluted water, urging individuals to contact their state legislators and, “hold the agricultural industry to the same level of responsibility as other industries.” A large, red button on the website labeled, “Take action! We’ve made it simple,” allowed visitors to easily send an email to their state legislators advocating for 100-foot stream buffer zones and other policies. An EPA Inspector General’s report from 2014 had warned that the EPA region responsible for awarding the grant had insufficient protections in place to ensure awardees were not using funds for advocacy, propaganda, and/or lobbying efforts.

According to a December, 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the EPA violated federal lobbying and advocacy laws by funding social media campaigns supporting EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule.

The letter and the list of signers in alphabetical order are included below. For the full text of the letter with footnotes, click here.

 

April 20, 2016

 

The Honorable Gina McCarthy

Administrator

Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.

Washington, DC 20460

 

Dear Administrator McCarthy,

We write to you today to express our extreme concern with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 funded whatsupstream.com website and campaign, which recently has come to our attention. While we appreciate EPA’s recent admission that wrongdoing occurred and that the campaign should never have been federally funded, we are still confused why EPA would have approved an award clearly violating a number of federal laws pertaining to funding propaganda, advocacy, and lobbying efforts. We find this revelation particularly disturbing, as it follows closely to both the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) questioning of Region 10’s award monitoring and a December 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found EPA had committed similar violations on social media advocacy campaigns supporting EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulation (also known as the “Clean Water Rule”).

As you are no doubt aware, federal law clearly directs that, “No part of any appropriation contained in this Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by the Congress.” Further restrictions clearly prohibit federal funds being used for many of the advocacy and publicity materials used by the whatsupstream.com campaign, including publications, radio, and electronic communications. Despite this stark prohibition, the website whatsupstream.com has a button at the top of its site directing visitors to, “Take Action! We’ve made it simple.” This button loads auto-generated text that will be sent to the visitor’s respective Washington State legislators, urging the legislators to support, “stronger laws protecting the health of our water resources in Washington,” by encouraging, “100-foot natural buffers between agriculture lands and streams.” Additionally this site asserts that, “state government must hold the agricultural industry to the same level of responsibility as other industries....” To be clear, whatsupstream.com has a disclaimer at the bottom of its website stating, “This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.” Based on our review of EPA Puget Sound Financial and Ecosystem Accounting Tracking System (FEATS) project reports, it appears that this campaign has been wholly funded by the EPA with no matching funds provided by any private or state and local government entities.

Currently, the Washington State Department of Ecology is in the process of renewing the requirements for its National Pollutant Discharge Eliminations System (NPDES) permits for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The Washington State legislature has also considered other water quality and agricultural related legislation during this same time period. These  state regulatory and legislative initiatives were pending and under consideration during the same time of the lobbying efforts funded by EPA.

What is more disturbing is that a July 14, 2014 report by the EPA’s OIG found that Region 10 EPA project officers, “emphasized overall progress rather than compliance with specific subaward requirements. This emphasis on overall progress increased the risk that project officers would not detect issues needing corrective action that might impact the project meeting its goals.” The report also found that of a sample of ten different EPA subawards, only three had protocols in place to ensure 501(c)(4) subaward recipients did not engage in lobbying activities. Despite these warning signs, an October 30, 2015 EPA Region 10 FEATS report pertaining to the whatsupstream.com project concluded that, “As a result of extensive review and engagement by EPA, we have been revising the website, and have to [sic] restarted media outreach”. This conclusion would seem to suggest that, even in spite of OIG’s report, EPA reviewed, engaged, and approved of the current whatsupstream.com website that is in blatant violation of federal law.

As mentioned, on December 14, 2015, GAO issued an opinion finding that EPA violated propaganda and anti-lobbying laws by using certain social media platforms in association with the WOTUS regulation. By obligating and expending appropriated funds in violation of specific prohibitions contained in appropriations acts for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, GAO found EPA also violated the Antideficiency Act. The whatsupstream.com campaign appears to be part of an alarming trend where EPA engages in funding advocacy efforts against the very entities it is seeking to regulate. EPA cannot systematically choose when it wishes to follow the law and when it does not. Congress has made it explicitly clear that EPA’s funding may not be used, “for publicity or propaganda purposes designed to support or defeat any proposed or pending regulation, administrative action, or order issued by the executive branch of any State or local government.”

We are aware that Senators Inhofe and Roberts recently sent a letter to the EPA OIG requesting an official audit and investigation into the whatsupstream.com campaign and related activities, and the House Committee on Agriculture is conducting a related oversight investigation of EPA grant management. We fully support these requests, and strongly advise EPA’s full and swift cooperation with all investigations and imminent oversight inquiries into this matter.

Sincerely,

 

Dan Newhouse                                                                                 Brad Ashford

Member of Congress                                                                     Member of Congress

Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA)

Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE)

Rep. Ralph Abraham, M.D. (R-LA)

Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX)

Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY)

Rep. Dan Benishek, M.D. (R-MI)

Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI)

Rep. Diane Black (R-TN)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA)

Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL)

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA)

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)

Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA)

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK)

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL)

Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN)

Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO)

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL)

Rep. Earl L. ‘Buddy’ Carter (R-GA)

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK)
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA)

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY)

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX)

Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA)

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND)

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR)

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA)

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL)
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, M.D. (R-TN)

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI)

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC)

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN)

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX)

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN)

Rep. John C. Fleming, M.D. (R-LA)

Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX)

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH)

Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY)

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)

Rep. Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (R-AZ)

Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA)

Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO)

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA)

Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI)

Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY)

Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY)

Rep. Crescent Hardy (R-NV)

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)

Rep. French Hill (R-AR)

Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NY)

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS)

Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX)

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS)

Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV)

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH)

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX)

Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC)

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH)

Rep. Trent Kelly (R-MS)

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA)

Rep. Steve King (R-IA)

Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-ID)

Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA)

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO)

Rep. Robert E. Latta (R-OH)

Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA)

Rep. Billy Long (R-MO)

Rep. Mia Love (R-UT)

Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-OK)

Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO)

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY)

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA)

Rep. David B. McKinley, P.E. (R-WV)

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)

Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ)

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC)

Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN)

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL)

Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI)

Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI)

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK)

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC)

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA)

Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD)

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)

Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS)

Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL)

Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM)

Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN)

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC)

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS)
Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL)

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX)

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY)

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA)

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH)

Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI)

Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN)

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY)

Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-AL)

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN)

Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL)

Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA)

Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC)

Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ)

Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA)

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)

Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO)

Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE)

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH)

Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA)

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX)

Rep. Dave Trott (R-MI)

Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-OH)

Rep. David G. Valadao (R-CA)

Rep.  Ann Wagner (R-MO)

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI)

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR)

Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC)

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN)

Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA)

Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX)

Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH)

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR)

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY)

Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR)

Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS)

Rep. Ted S. Yoho, DVM (R-FL)

Rep. Don Young (R-AK)

Rep. David Young (R-IA)

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY)

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT)