by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Former President Barack Obama’s EPA used a social media platform to secretly promote the agency’s policies in violation of federal law, according to a conservative watchdog group in Washington, D.C.
Judicial Watch obtained 900 pages of documents Monday showing the EPA used social media to lobby support for the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The agency used Thunderclap, a platform that shares messages across Facebook and Twitter, to recruit outside groups to generate support for various environmental policies.
Federal law prohibits agencies from engaging in propaganda. It also forbids agencies from using federal resources to conduct grassroots campaigns that prod U.S. citizens into browbeating lawmakers to act on pending legislation.
“I don’t want it to look like EPA used our own social media accounts to reach our support goal,” former EPA Director of Web Communications Jessica Orquina wrote in an email in 2014 to Karen Wirth, an EPA team leader in the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.
The covert campaign began when Travis Loop, the EPA’s director of communications for water, wrote in a Sept. 9, 2014 email to Gary Belan, senior director for the organization American Rivers, that the agency was pursuing a new strategy to defend WOTUS from critics.
“EPA is planning to use a new social media application called Thunderclap to provide a way for people to show their support for clean water and the agency’s proposal to protect it,” Loop wrote at the time before explaining how the ploy works.