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House Panel Wants Details Over EPA's Social Media Campaign on Clean Power Plan

Three days after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broke the law by using social media to promote its controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, lawmakers with the House Energy and Commerce Committee want to make sure the agency didn't do the same with its Clean Power Plan (CPP).

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy last Thursday, U.S. Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) said the EPA's actions on the WOTUS rule "call into question the use of social media to promote other rulemaking activity." The lawmakers said the EPA's social media campaign to promote the CPP included blog posts and messages on Facebook and Twitter, as well as a Thunderclap campaign that could potentially reach 2.6 million people.

Citing House Rules X and XI, the lawmakers asked McCarthy to certify in writing that the agency "has not engaged in covert propaganda or grassroots lobbying when promoting the CPP" by Dec. 29. She was also ordered to provide:

  • all social media and web postings relating to the CPP;
  • all communications between the EPA and other federal agencies relating to social media on the CPP; and
  • an accounting of all federal funds spent by EPA on soliciting comments in support of the CPP.

Upton chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Whitfield is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power. Murphy is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

In a 26-page legal decision issued last Monday, GAO said EPA violated appropriations acts for fiscal years (FY) 2014 and 2015, which prohibit publicity or propaganda and grassroots lobbying (see Shale DailyDec. 15). The EPA also violated the Antideficiency Act by appropriating funds that were not available for prohibited purposes, GAO said.

GAO said it was unclear how much money EPA spent on its social media campaign to promote the WOTUS rule, but the Antideficiency Act requires the agency to report the violation to the President and Congress, with a copy to the Comptroller General. EPA said it disagreed with GAO's findings but said it would comply with their request.

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