The Importance of Education and Outreach

Every day at EPA we are focused on two things: protecting public health and improving the environment for all Americans. As part of that effort we have the responsibility to explain this work to every American and make clear why it is relevant to their lives and the lives of their families.

Like almost every government, business or non-profit organization these days, we use social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, to stay connected and to inform people across the country about our work.

It lets us communicate directly with the public and to get their feedback. We also use these platforms to correct the record and clarify misinformation that is often injected in the discussion about important policies, rules and regulations.

One recent example has been around the development of our Clean Water Rule. The issue itself is a complicated one, admittedly. It involves science, complicated decisions from the Supreme Court, and very strong opinions on all sides. To ensure Americans had the facts directly from us about the proposed rule, the value of protecting streams and wetlands, and the need for clearly defined protections under the Clean Water Act, we used social media.

Our goal is to inform and educate. We encourage folks from all perspectives to participate so we can understand more, learn more and finalize a stronger rule. Every stakeholder — whether they supported or opposed the rule — were provided the same link to our Clean Water Rule webpage in education and outreach materials, emails, and presentations, and were told the deadline for submitting public comments and how to do so.

A public outreach effort to increase awareness and support of EPA’s proposed Clean Water Rule is well within the appropriate bounds of the agency’s mission to educate and engage Americans. As noted in a recent Comptroller General opinion, “agency officials have broad authority to educate the public on their policies and views, and this includes the authority to be persuasive in their materials.”

Because that is a fundamental step in developing smart, pragmatic regulations that allow us to protect public health and the environment while at the same time allowing the economy to continue to grow.

After releasing the proposed Clean Water Rule in March 2014, EPA conducted an unprecedented outreach effort that included holding more than 400 meetings across the country and visiting farms in nine states. The input helped us understand the genuine concerns and interests of a wide range of stakeholders and think through options to address them. As outlined in a recent blog by Administrator McCarthy, the key changes made to the proposed rule were actually driven in large part by outreach to agriculture, local government, states, and utilities.

About the author: Liz Purchia is the Deputy Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Public Affairs.

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