The Government Accountability Office has a beef with Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt.
Back in August, Pruitt appeared in a video produced by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association asking ranchers to comment on the EPA’s proposed repeal of the Clean Water Rule. The rule, Pruitt claimed, created “regulatory uncertainty” by which the Obama administration “reimagined their authority” to oversee the country’s waterways. He urged cattle ranchers and farmers to comment.
“We’re trying to fix the challenges from the 2015 rule, where the Obama Administration reimagined their authority under the Clean Water Act and defined a Water of the United States as being a puddle, a dry creek bed, and ephemeral drainage ditches across this country, which created great uncertainty,” the EPA head says, as a generic country music riff plays in the background.
Trouble is, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a group that lobbies on behalf of big beef, was urging viewers to get in touch with their elected representatives and explicitly asking them to help overturn the Clean Water Rule. And Congressman Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, thinks that may mean Pruitt violated a propaganda rule.
“We are deeply troubled that these recent EPA actions are the latest examples of EPA’s inappropriate use of taxpayer resources,” DeFazio wrote in October, and asked the GAO, the nonpartisan federal watchdog group, to investigate.
In a letter made public on Friday afternoon, the GAO confirmed that it would be looking into whether the EPA had violated the propaganda rule. In 2015, the GAO ruled the Obama administration’s EPA had violated this rule while lobbying for the Clean Water Rule through social media campaigns.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman stood by Pruitt’s appearance in the video, saying, “EPA’s commitment to an open, transparent process to redefine WOTUS includes engagement with all stakeholders.”
And the NCBA president, in a letter to the Denver Post, called out what he saw as biased coverage from the newspaper’s editorial board, saying, “This was a public official asking for input from citizens who would be affected by a regulation that his agency is considering. Somehow you consider that nefarious — we simply call it good, responsive governing.”
The extent to which the Clean Water Rule would affect farmers has been the subject of much debate among the EPA, environmental advocacy groups, and industry. The rule does preserve exemptions for agriculture, but industry advocates, like the American Farm Bureau Federation, have argued that it also allows leeway for more regulation and litigation.