Inhofe Seeks Additional Information on EPA’s Illegal Public Relations Campaign

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, on Friday sent letters to the Obama administration and two national environmental activist groups requesting information and documents in regard to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to promote the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule in violation of the Antideficiency Act and annual appropriations law restrictions against covert propaganda and grassroots lobbying. 

In December 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that EPA’s public relations campaign and social media use violated appropriations law and the Antideficiency Act, triggering a requirement that EPA “immediately” report details about the violation to the president and Congress.    The GAO legal decision also highlighted improper links between EPA and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Surfrider Foundation as part of an advocacy campaign in support of the WOTUS rule. 

In a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Inhofe requests information about the reporting delay and what steps the Obama administration has taken to avoid similar appropriations law violations by other agencies.  In letters to the NRDC and the Surfrider Foundation, Inhofe requests copies of communications between the groups and EPA related to EPA’s WOTUS advocacy campaign and several events with the EPA administrator that the groups sponsored.

“The Office of Management and Budget plays an important role in ensuring agencies comply with the Antideficiency Act,” Inhofe said in the letter to the OMB.  “Under section 1351 of the Antideficiency Act, the EPA Administrator is required to ‘immediately’ report ‘all relevant facts and a statement of actions taken’ to the President and Congress … More than two months have passed, but no such report has been transmitted to Congress despite the Antideficiency Act’s requirement that a violation be reported ‘immediately.’  Instead, representatives of the executive branch have repeatedly sought to minimize the significance of the GAO legal decision.”

In the letter to the NRDC, Inhofe said, “According to the Thunderclap site, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) signed up to be one of the supporters of the EPA Thunderclap, resulting in more than 142,000 people receiving the message through NRDC’s social media accounts.  GAO determined EPA’s Thunderclap message constituted covert propaganda because EPA was not sufficiently identified as the author of the message.  In other words, recipients of the Thunderclap message would have thought the message of support for the WOTUS rule was coming from a trusted friend or even NRDC itself (or other Thunderclap supporter), but not from EPA, as the law required.”

“GAO found the EPA article improperly linked to webpages operated by Surfrider Foundation and another environmental activist group that encouraged the public to send emails to members of Congress in support of the WOTUS rule at the same time Congress was considering legislation about the rule, in violation of the ban on grassroots lobbying,” Inhofe said in a letter to Surfrider Foundation.  “EPA’s outreach to surfing enthusiasts was not limited to this single online article.  On October 6, 2014, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy attended a meeting at the California headquarters of and participated in a discussion on Twitter with the Surfrider Foundation.”

To view the letter to the OMB, click here.

To view the letter to the NRDC, click here.

To view the letter to the Surfrider Foundation, click here.