Environmental Protection Agency officials are facing congressional scrutiny for funding an 'anti-farmer' ad campaign, just months after being cited for violating federal bans on covert government propaganda.
"While this advocacy campaign is troubling, we are even more concerned that it appears to be part of a broader pattern of mismanagement of federal funds at EPA," House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, wrote in a Tuesday letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
EPA officials have apologized for inadvertently funding a billboard campaign that suggested "unregulated agriculture" was a threat to the environment, but lawmakers see the misstep as another example of the agency running an lobbying campaign to build political support for its preferred regulations.
"While there are legal concerns with the lack of disclosure of EPA's involvement, the billboard is another example of EPA's improper practice of encouraging the lobbying of legislators," said Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts. "How and why the EPA has allowed taxpayer dollars to be used to attack any industry, including our vital agriculture producers, demands answers."
In the face of Roberts' criticism, the EPA apologized and said that the funding was inadvertent.
"The grant being used to fund the billboard(s) was awarded to a consortium to be directed at endangered salmon recovery efforts," an agency spokesman told Capital Press. "The consortium made a sub-award for a campaign which should not be using EPA funds. We are in the process of correcting that."
The admission of error failed to tamp down the controversy, in part because recent independent audits by the Government Accountability Office and the EPA Office of the Inspector General have concluded that the agency violated federal laws against "covert propaganda" in support of another controversial regulation.
"When viewed in context with the EPA OIG report and the recent GAO legal decision, the 'What's Upstream' campaign seems to be merely the most recent indicator of a lack of appropriate oversight at EPA," Conaway wrote.