The Environmental Protection Agency has a lot of explaining to do.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and 144 House members recently wrote a scathing letter to the EPA, scolding the federal agency for funding a propaganda campaign against Washington state farmers.
Earlier this spring billboards popped up in Olympia and Bellingham with pictures of cows standing in a stream with the slogan, “Unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk” and the words, “Learn more at whatsupstream.com.”
The billboards and the website indicate farmers are violating water quality laws and polluting the state’s streams and rivers. EPA grant money reportedly was used to spread this message in violation of federal anti-lobbying laws.
What’s Upstream? is a project of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, the Swinomish Tribal Indian Community and the Western Environmental Law Center. It has been funded with nearly $600,000 in EPA grants, according to Capital Press.
EPA officials said that the grant money was given to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, a consortium of 20 tribes, and then the consortium “sub-awarded” the money to the Swinomish Indian tribe, Capital Press reported.
The article said the tribe used some of the grant money to hire a public relations firm to promote stricter laws governing agriculture.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing that the agency was distressed by the campaign, and admitted the tone reflected on the billboards was egregious. She added that reimbursement money from EPA has been halted.
Farm groups are outraged, naturally, and legislators are right to take the EPA to task for this debacle. The billboards reportedly have since been taken down and the website has been altered so people can no longer hit a link to send a letter to state lawmakers.
While these are appropriate steps, Newhouse is spot on when he said the “loss of trust in the agency is real” and that this incident causes “damage that’s going to take a long time to come back from.”
Washington state has strict regulations governing livestock operations and it is illegal for farms to cause or contribute to pollution in waterways. While environmental groups have every right to promote their agenda, the tactics used by What’s Upstream? appear malicious, inflammatory and lack hard evidence.
The Washington Policy Center noted that the pictures of the cows used on the billboards are a stock photo from the Internet, and not a real example of a dairy in Washington violating state law.
The letter written by Newhouse and other lawmakers said that the House Committee on Agriculture is conducting an investigation of EPA grant management, and that the EPA Office of Inspector General has been asked to conduct an official audit and investigation into the What’s Upstream? campaign. The letter advises the EPA to cooperate fully with these inquiries.
That’s the least it can do.
EPA officials need to revamp their grant system as soon as possible to ensure a tax-funded propaganda campaign never happens again.