The U.S. Government Accountability Office said Monday that the EPA violated prohibitions against publicity or propaganda and grassroots lobbying through its use of social media during the Waters of the U.S. public comment period.
In a letter addressed to Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., GAO shares specific instances of EPA's use of social media related to the WOTUS rulemaking as well as discussion of the costs incurred by EPA for those uses.
"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 during FYs 2014 and 2015," the letter said. "Because EPA obligated and expended appropriated funds in violation of statutory prohibitions, we also conclude that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1 )(A), as the agency's appropriations were not available for these prohibited purposes."
The letter highlights EPA's use of "Thunderclap," a social media platform that allows a single message to be sent through the social accounts of hundreds of users as one violation, and also cites EPA-shared links to Natural Resources Defense Council and Surfrider webpages as unauthorized grassroots lobbying.
The concerns about EPA's social media use surfaced this summer, when a New York Times report suggested EPA used a variety of platforms to solicit comments on the WOTUS rule. Legislators responded, ordering additional government oversight of EPA's tactics.
The GAO findings add to previous concerns from farm groups about the regulation's effects on private land rights and permitting.
"Courts already have declared serious doubts about the legal authority for the rule," American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said Monday. "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.
"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," he said.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, also an avid supporter of WOTUS repeal, said the GAO's findings suggest that previous concerns appearing over the summer in Army Corps of Engineers' internal memos about the legality of WOTUS and court rulings in certain states to postpone implementation of the rule are warranted.
"The Army Corps' of Engineers has raised concerns that the EPA exaggerated the scientific basis for their jurisdictional determinations, the courts have twice found rationale to halt implementation of the rule, and both Chambers of Congress have taken action to withdraw the rule," NCBA President Philip Ellis said. "It is time for Congress to act to fully defund implementation of the WOTUS rule and bring accountability to the EPA."
See the full GAO decision and WOTUS social media explanation as provided by NCBA.