Five Months after EPA “Distressed” by What’s Upstream Campaign, Still No Answers from EPA

September 20, 2016
Press Release
Newhouse leads request for update on EPA review of anti-farmer campaign in Washington State

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), led a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting an update on the agency’s review of the anti-farmer “What’s Upstream” campaign in Washington State. EPA Region 10 funded the What’s Upstream website and advocacy campaign that attempts to influence legislators for greater regulation of farmers and ranchers. The letter requests an update on the agency’s progress assembling facts and enacting reforms to ensure appropriated funds are not being used in contravention of the law. In April of this year, Administrator McCarthy acknowledged that the EPA was “distressed by the use of the money and the tone of [the What’s Upstream] campaign” and called for a full review of the use of taxpayer funds for the campaign. The letter sent today was signed by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX), Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-MN), and Rep. David Scott (D-GA).

The Members wrote in the letter:

In light of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) finding that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act and federal appropriations law by promoting the Waters of the Unites States (WOTUS) rule, followed so closely by the revelation of misuse of funds to lobby state legislators through the ‘What’s Upstream’ campaign, we are growing increasingly concerned about EPA’s use of taxpayer dollars. As we await the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report on the ‘What’s Upstream’ campaign and discuss the need for and scope of potential legislative reform, an update from EPA on what proactive steps have been taken to address this disturbing trend could help better direct our conversations.


In April, the EPA admitted that it should not have funded a campaign in Washington State known as What's Upstream, due to that campaign’s brazen lobbying of state legislators in contravention of federal law. The What's Upstream 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.

Last week, Rep. Newhouse voted to pass legislation he joined in introducing with Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI): H.R. 5226, the Regulatory Integrity Act of 2016, would direct each federal agency to provide transparency into the proposed rule process by requiring agencies to post, in a central location, all the public comments they issue during the proposed rule stage. The bill prohibits agencies from lobbying or campaigning in support of proposed rules and establishes clear standards of what that type of activity would include.

To read the full text of the letter to the EPA, click here.