Too Much Cheerleading Has EPA In Deep Water [Opinion]

Frank GilesDo you remember the days before EPA’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) was imposed and the aggressive campaign the agency launched to win favor for the sweeping measure? I recall the EPA administrator making snarky comments and poking fun at growers who expressed a concern over the new rules.

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At the time, I thought EPA was cheerleading awfully hard for WOTUS, which it says was meant to “clarify” rules and definitions laid out by the Clean Water Act. The agency made extensive use of Twitter to push WOTUS, employing the hashtag #DitchTheMyths to counter its many opponents. All along, federal officials insisted the rule would have no effect on farmers, and would in fact make life better for everyone involved.

Fast forward. EPA announced the final WOTUS rule in May. As people began to pore through the pages of the rule, many experts noted the language did nothing at all to clarify vagaries that had been blamed for lawsuits between the agency and environmental groups in the past. In fact, from a purely political point of view, some suggested the new rule was vague for the very purpose of setting up new lawsuits between agriculture and environmental groups.

Upon announcement of the rule, a number of states filed lawsuits in protest of the rule. In October, the Sixth Federal Court of Appeals put a stay nationwide on the rule noting the agency had taken too broad a view of its regulatory authority.

The latest shoe to drop in the vigorous debate that has been WOTUS was a finding from the General Accountability Office (GAO) that EPA broke the law “cheerleading” for the new rule. It seems all that Tweeting was just a little too much rah-rah from a federal agency.

Outgoing American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman had this to say about the GAO ruling: “A legal opinion by the GAO finds that EPA broke the law with its social media and grassroots lobbying campaign advocating for its own Waters of the U.S. rule. It’s clear from this report that EPA orchestrated this matter in a biased fashion.

“Courts already have declared serious doubts about the legal authority for the rule. Now that it has become clear the agency used illegal tactics to manufacture ill-informed support for the rule, Congress should act immediately to prohibit implementation of this rule, which is the product of an unlawful and misguided process.

“The GAO findings vindicate those, like the American Farm Bureau Federation, who have claimed all along that EPA’s tactics advocating for this rule stepped past the bounds of proper agency rulemaking. EPA was focused only on promoting the rule rather than hearing good-faith concerns from a wide cross-section of Americans. The public deserves better when important matters of public policy are at stake.”

Well said, Bob, and thanks for your years of service as Farm Bureau President. As he noted, it is the job of elected officials in this country to pass the laws that govern our citizenry. These days, far too often, elected representatives of the people are abdicating their responsibilities to federal agencies. The result is rules like WOTUS. I don’t know how much of it stems from agencies seizing power they don’t have, or how much is elected officials being too timid to take a political position on controversial topics. Either way, it is time for a change.