Instead of inviting and openly considering public input, Steen said, the EPA conducted an aggressive advocacy campaign to obscure the on-the-ground impact of the rule and to smear groups like Farm Bureau that attempted to explain those impacts to the public.
“The notice-and-comment procedure for rulemaking is designed to ensure that agencies take honest account of the thoughts and concerns of the regulated public,” Steen said. “Legitimate concerns over how the rule would affect agriculture, in particular, were subtly twisted and then dismissed as ‘silly’ and ‘ludicrous’ and ‘myths.’ Public statements from the agency’s highest officials made it clear that the agency was not genuinely open to considering objections to the rule.”
Steen said the EPA also made use of social media tools such as Thunderclap to generate well-intended but ill-informed support for the rule among the nonfarming public. Later, agency officials pointed to the resulting emails, petition signatures, postcards and other non-substantive mass comments to contend that the public supported the rule. The vast majority of substantive comments—from state and local governments, business owners and organizations representing virtually every segment of the U.S. economy—opposed the rule, Steen maintained.
“Regardless of whether you supported, opposed or never heard of that rule, you should shudder to think that this is how controversial regulations will be developed in the age of social media,” she said. “Agencies must strive to maintain an open mind throughout the rulemaking process and to inform rather than indoctrinate and obfuscate, even when policy issues have become controversial and politicized.”
On Capitol Hill, Farm Bureau hailed passage by the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee of a bill to stop the “Waters” rule.
The Federal Water Quality Protection Act, S. 1140, would force the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to craft a new rule that would fall within the parameters of Congress’ intent under the Clean Water Act. The measure would require a comment period on the revised proposed rule of no fewer than 120 days and a final rule published no later thanDec. 31, 2016.