Olson Demands Answers on EPA Coordination with Outside Groups to Influence Public Opinion on Controversial Rules
Rep. Pete Olson (TX-22) today sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy addressing media reports of attempts to coordinate an effort with outside groups to counter political opposition to controversial rules with supportive public opinion.
According to the New York Times, "The Obama administration is the first to give the EPA a mandate to create broad public outreach campaigns, using the tactics of elections, in support of federal environmental regulations before they are final." Olson has asked EPA to answer questions about this coordinated effort.
"EPA has broad and sweeping power to fundamentally change how our communities operate," Rep. Pete Olson said. "Through the rules they issue, from restrictive mandates on energy production and new manufacturing, to expanding the scope of federal authority over local waterways, businesses and households across America are affected. The public has a right to formulate an unbiased opinion on how they view these regulations. EPAâ€™s efforts, though we do not yet know the scope of them, are troubling to those of us who put the utmost importance on open and honest government. I look forward to their response."
Media Contact: Melissa Kelly
Text of the letter:
The Honorable Gina McCarthy
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460
As you are aware, there have been reports  recently regarding the Environmental Protection Agencyâ€™s use of social media to solicit public support during the rulemaking process for controversial regulatory initiatives. In fact, concerns have been raised that the Agencyâ€™s efforts go far beyond providing the public with information and reflect agency media campaigns that are not an appropriate part of the federal rulemaking process. Given the critical importance of a transparent, neutral and objective rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedures Act, I find the reports about EPAâ€™s actions troubling. This is especially a concern given that the example provided; the Waters of the United States rule is among the more controversial actions the EPA has undertaken in recent years.
In light of these issues, I respectfully request that you answer the following questions:
- What directives has the Agency provided to employees regarding the use of social media generally?
- Who within the EPA is ultimately responsible for approving or denying use of social media relating to significant rulemakings?
- For which rules or proposed Agency actions has the EPA used social media to solicit public support? Please identify all such rulemakings or proposed actions. (i.e. multiple postings regarding the benefits of an action).
- What was the intended result of these postings?
- Has the Agency or any Agency staff explicitly encouraged the public to comment in the official docket on the benefits of any rule in the last six years?
- Has the Agency or any Agency staff explicitly encouraged the public to express support for an Agency action to elected officials of the legislative branch?
- What policies or procedures are in place to ensure that the Agency complies with prohibitions against grass roots lobbying?
I look forward to your prompt and substantive responses on this matter.
Member of Congress
 Lipton, Eric, and Coral Davenport. â€œCritics Hear E.P.A.â€™s Voice in â€˜Public Commentsâ€™.â€ The New York Times, 18 May 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/19/us/critics-hear-epas-voice-in-public-comments.html. 21 May 2015