"Covert propaganda" and "grassroots lobbying" has landed the Environmental Protection Agency in hot water after being investigated by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for inappropriate use of social media to promote the "waters of the United States Rule" (WOTUS).
On Dec. 14, the GOA ruled the EPA broke federal law through an online campaign utilizing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Thunderclap to flood the public comment period in support of the rule under the impression that it was to protect the nation's drinking water. In a screenshot from The New York Times, it was shown @EPAwater tweeted a link to their followers with a link to their Thunderclap campaign, which essentially floods supporters" social media pages with common messages about the campaign for their friends and followers on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter to see once a supporter quota is met. In the screenshot captured by Farm Journal Media, the Thunderclap page set up by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had a social reach of 1,803,761 people ending Sept. 29 at 2 p.m., with the message, "Clean water is important to me. I support EPA's efforts to protect it for my health, my family and my community."
"We conclude that EPA violated the described provisions through its use of social media in association with its rulemaking efforts to define "Waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act (CWA) during FYs 2014 and 2015," states GOA in the 26-page-report.
WOTUS has been a continual battle for the agricultural community, including Republicans and business groups, in clarifying the reach of the CWA in efforts for it to not include ditches, ephemerals, ponds or puddles, protecting farmers and ranchers from the ability to operate only within EPA granted permits for simple acts of building fence across a ditch to applying fertilizer to crops.
In an article by The New York Times, Liz Purchia, a spokeswoman for the agency, debated the GOA's ruling, and was quoted, "We use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities. At no point did the E.P.A. encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature."
While the breaking of federal is speculated to not result in criminal penalties, it does give Republicans more ground to stand on just as they moved to block WOTUS, "through an amendment to the enormous spending bill expected to pass in Congress this week," reports the same article in The New York Times.
The EPA's actions also come to no surprise by opponents of the rule.
"G.A.O."s finding confirms what I have long suspected, that E.P.A. will go to extreme lengths and even violate the law to promote its activist environmental agenda," states Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
"The EPA's zealous advocacy of their rule in violation of federal law shows the extremes to which this administration will go to subvert public opinion in favor of their far-reaching environmental agenda," says Philip Ellis, President of National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
"It's clear from this report that EPA orchestrated this matter in a biased fashion. Now it's up to Congress to clean up this mess by including a corrective measure in the omnibus bill now taking shape on Capitol Hill," says Bob Stallman, President of American Farm Bureau Federation. "Courts already have declared serious doubts about the legal authority for the rule. Now that it has become clear that the agency used illegal tactics to manufacture ill-informed support for the rule, Congress should act immediately to prohibit implementation of this rule, which is the product of an unlawful and misguided process."