An Environmental Protection Agency funded media campaign to change how Washington state regulates agriculture remained largely intact Tuesday, one week after the agency said the campaign misused EPA funds and that it was taking corrective action.
What’s Upstream, a partnership between the Swinomish Indian tribe and environmental groups, has maintained a website, letter-writing campaign, Facebook page and one billboard.
The EPA through a spokesman in Seattle declined Tuesday to comment on what if anything the agency is doing to dismantle the campaign.
The tribe last week took down a billboard in Olympia and said it voluntarily planned to take down a second one in Bellingham because of EPA’s concerns. The billboard has remained up. Efforts to reach a tribe official Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The tribe and environmental groups characterize What’s Upstream as a campaign to educate the public about sources of water pollution.
Farm groups and some lawmakers criticize the campaign as on over-the-top smearing of farmers and ranchers and possibly an illegal use of federal funds for political activities.
“The campaign goes on and the damage being done to farmers continues. We’re very concerned and disappointed EPA won’t take stronger action to end this abuse, so we will have to look to our elected representatives,” said Gerald Baron, director of Save Family Farming in northwestern Washington.
EPA records show the agency encouraged the campaign as far back as 2011 and directed the tribe to use EPA grants for public education “directed at decision makers and regional stakeholders.”
The tribe implemented elements of the media campaign in 2013 with the help of a public-relations firm, Strategies 360, and the knowledge of the EPA, according to EPA records.
What’s Upstream apparently garnered little attention until farm groups in northwestern Washington were angered by advertisements on public buses last month showing cows standing in an unidentified stream.
The agency didn’t distance itself from What’s Upstream until April 5, the same day that Republican U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma asked the Inspector General’s Office to investigate. The Inspector General’s Office says it will not confirm or deny an investigation.
Meanwhile, other lawmakers in the past week have questioned EPA’s support for the ongoing campaign.
State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, has written Dennis McLerran, the EPA’s Northwest regional director, asking for an explanation.
Ericksen represents northwestern Washington, one of two regions in the state with a large number of dairies. Tribes and environmental groups are lobbying lawmakers and state agencies for stricter manure-handling laws.
Ericksen told McLerran that the What’s Upstream campaign appeared to be directed at state policymakers, without clearly identifying who’s paying for it.
“I urge EPA to improve its efforts around transparency in the future, so that I and other legislators will be fully informed of the agency’s involvement in campaigns that relate to issues that may come before the state legislature,” Ericksen wrote.
Missouri Republican Vicky Hartzler, a member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, seconded Roberts’ and Inhofe’s call for an investigation.
“This is seemingly a blatant violation of the law by an agency actively trying to paint our farmers and producers in a negative light to advance its own regulatory agenda and expansive land grabs,” she said in a written statement.
The EPA had apparently spent about $570,000 on the campaign through the end of September, based on a review of records by the Capital Press. Neither the tribe nor EPA has been able to confirm or update how much has been spent.
The Swinomish tribe is due to submit another report on What’s Upstream spending and activities this month.
Reposted by Reagangirl.com 4/14/16