We Won’t Back Down from our Mission

By Liz Purchia

It’s that time again. Like clockwork, mere days after the world reached a historic global climate agreement in Paris, a small but vocal group are grasping at anything to distract from and derail our progress.

The latest attempt cites EPA’s public communications about providing clean water to the American people as cause to investigate EPA’s use of social media around our Clean Power Plan-an essential rule to fight climate change by cutting carbon pollution from power plants.

Surprising no one. Their goal is to create a buzz around our social media use and draw attention away from the important work to take real action to improve our nation’s waterways and reduce carbon pollution that threatens the health of all Americans.

Let’s review the facts. Like so many other government agencies, private companies, NGO’s, universities, and yes – even Congressional offices – EPA uses various social media platforms to communicate and engage with the public about our work.

It’s almost 2016. One of the most effective ways to share information is via the Internet and social media. Though backward-thinkers might prefer it, we won’t operate as if we live in the Stone Age. EPA wants American citizens to know what we’re up to. We want to be as transparent as possible. We want to engage diverse constituents in our work. And we want them to be informed. Social media is a powerful tool to do that.

Let’s put things in perspective. Here is what this is really about. Last year, we used the GSA-approved platform “Thunderclap,” to get the word out about our historic Clean Water Rule-a law to better protect the streams and wetlands that are the foundation of our nation’s water resources.

We created a page on Thunderclap, labeled clearly, right up top, with our logo and the byline, “by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” that contained the following message: “Clean Water is important to me. I support EPA’s efforts to protect it for my health, my family, and my community.” It linked to an EPA website with information about the rule. We shared this page with all of our stakeholders – no matter what sector, geographic location, or perspective – with the goal of catalyzing our public engagement process, and getting people excited about the importance of clean water.

By visiting the page and choosing to proactively click on a link, users could decide to share the single message across their various social media accounts. Users had the opportunity to customize and edit the message any way they wanted to before they sent it. Recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) called this outreach approach “covert propaganda”.

The GAO also cited EPA’s use of an external hyperlink in a blog post as evidence that we violated anti-lobbying provisions. This link went to a blog about surfers and how they are impacted by pollution. It was written in 2010, four years before our Clean Water Rule even existed. We appreciate the GAO’s consideration of these matters, but respectfully disagree.

At no point did the EPA encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature about the Clean Water Rule. Plain and simple. The rule is an agency action, promulgated by EPA. It’s not even about congressional legislation.

We will continue to work with GAO and members of Congress to explain what this is and isn’t. And our agency is continually learning and refining our approaches, both to make our communications as effective as possible, and to ensure that we’re continuing to follow the laws governing our means of communicating our important activities to the American public.

We’re always seeking the clearest and best routes to engage Americans in our mission and inform them about the taxpayer-funded work that, each day, protects the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the environment that we all share.

Of the over 100 social media posts reviewed by the GAO, these two extremely narrow examples were plucked out to be challenged – and the case against them is tenuous. Yet those who want to block EPA’s Clean Water Rule are poring over the assessment like it’s a holiday gift. And those who question the well-established science behind climate change are piling into the fray-hoping to squeeze out any crumbs of opportunity to undermine our agency and our ability to fulfill the job that Congress gave us to do.

EPA won’t back down from our mission. We stand by our public outreach efforts on both the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan. Unfortunately, valuable time and resources are being wasted on empty attacks. The public would be better served without these deliberate distractions, and with full attention focused on meeting our mission to protect the health of kids and families, and ensure our shared environment is clean and safe.