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Newhouse, Walberg Bill to Prevent Rulemaking Misconduct by Federal Agencies Passes House

September 14, 2016
Press Release
House bill passage is a “first step” for reforms to address EPA funds used in anti-farmer What’s Upstream campaign in Washington State

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), 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. Rep. Newhouse spoke on the House floor in support of the legislation:

WATCH REP. NEWHOUSE FLOOR SPEECH ON BILL TO PREVENT RULEMAKING MISCONDUCT

Transcript:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the rule and the underlying legislation, H.R. 5226, the Regulatory Integrity Act….In recent years, a disturbing trend has emerged among federal agencies. In a number of instances, federal agencies have used taxpayer dollars to fund public communication campaigns attempting to lobby for agency regulations. Despite multiple federal laws explicitly prohibiting this, agencies continue to ignore the law and use taxpayer dollars to lobby on the very regulations their agencies are developing.

Several months ago in my own home state of Washington, a campaign known as “What’s Upstream” came to light. I’d like to point your attention to this poster. Through this broad and unfair ad campaign, all farmers were demonized as careless polluters. What’s Upstream used billboards, bus and radio ads, and a visually-assaulting website – depicting dead fish and polluted water – to encourage private citizens to contact their state legislators and push for stricter regulations on farmers. It is also important to note that it has been discovered that these images were not even from the state of Washington.

As a life-long farmer myself, who has seen first-hand the remarkable, proactive steps farmers have taken to protect our resources, I was insulted by the blatant lies this campaign has spread about farmers. And what’s probably more insulting though can be seen by these pictures of the What’s Upstream website. What’s Upstream encouraged site visitors to send messages to “Washington state senators whose votes we hope to influence” – this is lobbying in the truest sense of the word. But the real kicker is when you scroll down to the bottom of the page to see who it was funded by: “this message has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.”

Now just stop and think about that for just a second – your hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being used by the EPA to lie about farmers, and then to lobby state legislators to put in place stricter regulations against farmers. It’s unconscionable, and it violates the law.

Earlier this year, I was proud to co-lead a letter with my friend from Nebraska, Congressman Ashford, to EPA Administrator McCarthy, expressing outrage and demanding an investigation into this campaign. I was honored to have 145 House members – fully one-third of the entire body – join us on that letter demanding accountability. But this campaign exposed to us a very real need for grant and lobbying reform, which H.R. 5226 takes a good first step in bringing. By requiring all Executive agencies to disclose their public communications, it will help bring transparency to agency communications, and ensure that these types of activities cannot hide or go unnoticed.

While future steps may be necessary, I was proud to work with Congressman Walberg to introduce this legislation, and I thank him for his leadership on this issue.

Our agricultural community and the American taxpayers deserve accountability, and I look forward to continuing to work for this bill’s enactment.

 

Background:

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted in news reports 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.

In response, Rep. Newhouse was joined by 144 Members of Congress on a bipartisan letter to the EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. The Members demanded 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.