EPA may have broken federal lobbying law with anti-farmer campaign

May 21, 2016

by Don Jenkins

as published by Capital Press

The federal Anti-Lobbying Act prohibits spending federal funds to influence any government, unless Congress authorizes it. Several federal lawmakers have said What’s Upstream was an apparent violation. Violations can be punished with fines ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 per expenditure.

The Environmental Protection Agency was “intimately involved” in developing the What’s Upstream campaign, according to the Swinomish Indian tribe’s chairman, Brian Cladoosby.

The tribe undertook the campaign “after years of exploring other options to protect our environment,” Cladoosby told three federal lawmakers in an April 25 letter.

“We did so with financial support and substantive guidance of the Environmental Protection Agency,” he said.

“Staff from the EPA were intimately involved in helping us develop the content of public materials to ensure that they were both compliant with federal grant requirements and rooted in sound science,” according to Cladoosby.

Farm groups and some members of Congress say What’s Upstream smears agriculture by falsely portraying the industry as an unregulated pollution source.

EPA has distanced itself from the campaign, and Cladoosby’s letter contrasts with one EPA Northwest Administrator Dennis McLerran sent May 2 to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.

McLerran told Conaway that the agency was “engaged” with the tribe over five years on the tribe’s plans to build a “public information and awareness website.”

But the EPA can’t control the “work product” of grant recipients and that its involvement was focused on “technical input,” according to McLerran.

The letters, included in documents presented Thursday to the Washington State Conservation Commission, provide insight into how the EPA and tribe are characterizing to Congress the agency’s role in What’s Upstream.

The What’s Upstream campaign sought to rally grass-roots support for prohibiting farming within 100 feet of waterways in Washington.

At the instigation of Republican Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the Inspector General of the EPA will investigate whether any laws were broken by using federal funds to sway state legislators.

The EPA has awarded the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission millions of dollars for Puget Sound projects. Over the past five years, the Swinomish tribe has spent an estimated $570,000 on the What’s Upstream campaign. The EPA and fisheries commission have not provided an official total.

In his May 2 letter, McLerran assured Conaway that the EPA provides “strong oversight” over grants.

The fisheries commission, however, was responsible for monitoring the tribe’s activities, McLerran stated.

“The EPA’s involvement in the (tribe’s) project has focused on providing technical input during routine proposal reviews and flagging potential areas of non-compliance with grant terms and conditions, laws, regulations, and policies,” McLerran wrote.

“For example, the EPA has provided guidance to the (fisheries) commission and the Swinomish tribe regarding lobbying restrictions applicable to grants.”

McLerran told Conaway that the tribe paid for What’s Upstream billboards in Bellingham and Olympia. McLerran did not address EPA spending on the services of the Seattle lobbying firm, Strategies 360, which developed the billboard’s content.

Cladoosby said Thursday in an interview with the Capital Press that the tribe recently removed a “Take Action” link on the What’s Upstream website at the request of the EPA. The link facilitated a letter-writing campaign to state legislators.

“We just removed that until the air is all clear on the issue of lobbying,” Cladoosby said. “We were told that it was not lobbying because we weren’t lobbying federal officials.”

The EPA has said What’s Upstream wasn’t lobbying because the campaign did not refer to specific pending legislation.

The federal Anti-Lobbying Act prohibits spending federal funds to influence any government, unless Congress authorizes it. Several federal lawmakers have said What’s Upstream was an apparent violation. Violations can be punished with fines ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 per expenditure.

EPA acknowledged but did not otherwise respond to a request for comment for this story.

Cladoosby said that the tribe is trying to refocus attention on water pollution, which the tribe says threatens its treaty fishing rights.

“Agriculture is polluting the environment. Agriculture is having an impact on water quality. Nobody can deny that fact, and we just need better protection of the water, salmon and environment,” he said.

The Washington Department of Ecology has identified several sources of water pollution in the Puget Sound, including agriculture, urban development and the dumping of untreated sewage by recreational boaters.

According to a DOE pollution-control plan, the agency uses its regulatory authority to address pollution problems on agricultural lands. In addition, according to DOE, farmers must comply with several laws related to containing manure, and storing and applying chemicals.

Although rooted in the Puget Sound, the What’s Upstream campaign has attracted attention from groups across the country.

The National Association of Conservation Districts said that the What’s Upstream campaign gives short shrift to conservation efforts by farmers.

“The narrowly focused perspective of the What’s Upstream campaign ignores collaborative, voluntary conservation work, is counterproductive to the work of farmers, and is an inaccurate portrayal of the success that has been realized through locally led conservation efforts,” the national association’s president, Lee McDaniel, said in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Reposted by  5/21/16

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