By Natalia Castro
In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tricked the American people into rallying behind a regulation, The Waters of the United States, that took away jobs and harmed businesses.
After engaging in “covert propaganda and self-aggrandizement”, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office reported that the EPA violated critical anti-lobbying law — enacted in annual appropriations bills — to push regulations onto the American people; now Trump is undoing Obama’s damage and Congress is bringing transparency back into government.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), authored and had the House pass legislation, H.R. 1004, The Regulatory Integrity Act of 2017, through the House which will require executive agencies to update the status of upcoming regulations consistently on a public format. The law puts the requirement on agency heads to “make publicly available in a searchable format in a prominent location either on the website of the Executive agency or in the rule making docket on Regulations.gov” each pending regulatory action as well as “a list of each public communication about the pending agency regulatory action.”
The law requires executive agencies to maintain public access to this information for a minimum of 5 years after the regulation has been finalized, ensuring the people have access to accurate information on the regulations they will be asked to submit to.
The Waters of the United States rule proposed by the EPA serves to redefine what constitutes rivers, streams, lakes, and marshes fall under the jurisdiction of the agency as “navigable” waters under the terms of the Clean Water Act to the extent that every puddle on your property could be covered.
The rule dramatically increases EPA oversight and did so under the justification in part that the “final rule reflects consideration of the extensive public comments received on the proposed rule.”
However, this “public comment” was far from what the EPA described. The New York Times revealed in May 2015, through a series of social media campaigns the EPA, without fully disclosing its identity, helped tip the scales throughout the comment period, pushing positive information about the water rule to the public and encouraged newly turned environmentalists to comment on the need for the program.
As the EPA boasted over one million comments with a nearly 90 percent positivity rating, Republican Senator James Inhofe blasted the agency’s involvement, “There is clear collusion between extreme environmental groups and the Obama administration in both developing and promoting a host of new regulations.”
The Government Accountability Office report explained that while the EPA could not quantify the exact cost spent on social media campaigns promoting this rule but that “staff is paid for time spent developing and posting a message but time is not tracked by platform or project.”
The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform noted in their report on H.R. 1004 that the most egregious element of the EPA’s actions was that “through these campaigns the EPA oversimplified an immensely complicated rule in order to solicit support for its rule, leaving the public misinformed.”
The EPA tried to fool the American people into legislation that former House Speaker John Boehner at the time said, “is being shoved down the throats of hardworking people with no input, and places landowners, small businesses, farmers and manufacturers on the road to a regulatory and economic hell.”
Luckily, President Trump has made rescinding this exact regulation a priority. Just this week, Trump signed executive order Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule, to review the EPA’s overreach.
Trump announced, “EPA’s so-called Waters of the United States Rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation and it has truly run amok and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land…The EPA’s regulators were putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands and regulations and permits started treating our wonderful small farmers and small businesses as if they were a major industrial polluter.”
As Trump removes the “navigable” waters rule the Obama Administration wanted, Congress is working to prevent government from attempting to fool citizens like this in the future.
Now by passing the Walberg legislation, the House is preventing this blatant public misinformation. By forcing agency heads to provide information regarding pending regulations to the public in a clear and concise way, Congress is following through on what Trump has begun; removing executive overreach and bringing government back to the people who provided consent to be governed.
Natalia Castro is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.