House members ask for EPA Inspector General to Investigate Campaign to Sell WOTUS to PublicFri, 07 Aug 2015 06:38:55 CDT
As the official implementation of the Clean Water Rule- or WOTUS- nears, the outcry over the EPA's handling of this major rewrite of the Clean Water Act passed by Congress in the 1970s continues.
Over the last week the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee revealed that the Army Corps of Engineers, the primary regulator over EPA’s rule, believes that the rule will not hold up in the courts and the Corps repeatedly rebuked EPA officials for their abuse of the rulemaking process. CLick here for our earlier story on the Army Corps memos that raise concerns over WOTUS.
On Wednesday of this week- more than 100 members of Congress sent a letter to the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General requesting that the OIG open a formal investigation into the EPA’s unprecedented grassroots lobbying effort to promote its rulemaking.
According to the letter- the lawmakers tell the EPA's OIG that all rulemakings, particularly ones of such an enormous scope and significant consequence as the WOTUS rule, require stakeholder engagement to the strongest degree possible. However, in an effort to misrepresent the concerns of the affected public, the EPA used social media and possibly colluded with advocacy organizations to generate support for its actions.
Anti-lobbying statutes and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) guidelines prohibit agency employees from “engaging in substantial ‘grass roots’ lobbying” and from “provid administrative support for the lobbying activities of private organizations", as such activities undermine the spirit of the public comment period.
The EPA consistently made claims that it had received over one million comments on the rule, and about 90% of them were supportive. However, according the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, only 20,567 of those comments were considered “unique,” and of those, only 10% were considered substantive. The vast majority of comments – more than 98%– appeared to be mass mailings generated by the EPA’s lobbying efforts.
So while it is clear that EPA undertook an unprecedented campaign to generate support for the WOTUS rule, whether or not the Agency’s actions became illegal actions in violation of anti-lobbying statutes is unclear.
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio) who led the delegation of members in writing the letter, said if the EPA colluded with political entities like the Sierra Club and Organizing for America to promote this regulation, he hopes OIG conducts a rigorous, impartial investigation to determine whether any federal anti-lobbying laws were broken. Congressman Rick Crawford of Arkansas was the other member of Congress that led the effort to get colleagues to sign off on the letter. Two members of the Oklahoma delegation, Markwayne Mullin and Jim Bridenstine, were among the 100 lawmakers who signed and have called for the review of the methods used by EPA Adminstrator Gina McCarthy.
Click here to read the letter sent to the OIG of the Environmental Protection Agency.
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