House members join the fray on anti-farmer billboard
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WASHINGTON, April 20, 2016 - One-third of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday expressing their concern stemming from an anti-farmer billboard that was installed using taxpayer funds.
The letter was signed by 145 representatives - 142 of them Republican - and addresses a billboard in Washington state that was linked to the whatsupstream.com campaign. The campaign's website encouraged Washington residents to contact their legislators to tell them to “hold the agricultural industry to the same level of responsibility as other industries.”
The letter said there was confusion “why EPA would have approved an award clearly violating a number of federal laws pertaining to funding propaganda, advocacy, and lobbying efforts.”
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was pressed on the issue Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where she said EPA was “distressed about the use of the money and the tone of the campaign” and that further reimbursements have been halted.
“We need to relook at the details and the scope of our contracts, so subcontractors that are used not only meet the legal merits of what we have to do but also reflect the tone and interest of EPA in collaborating with agriculture on these issues,” she said.
Earlier this week, the EPA's Inspector General sent a letter to Senate Agriculture Committee chair Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Environment and Public Works Committee chair Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., notifying them that there would be an investigation into the matter.
Since that investigation is ongoing, House Ag Committee Chair Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said any decision on a course of action - be it legislative or otherwise - should wait until after the conclusion.
“It's against the law right now, so passing a rule or a law that says it's really against the law might be good theater, but I don't know that it helps,” Conaway said. He also noted he had some jurisdictional questions, but said it would be a “typical Washington response to propose solutions before you know the facts.”
Washington Republican Dan Newhouse, the state's former agriculture director, added that there was nothing set in stone, but there are “serious conversations going on right now pertaining to the EPA grant process.”
Only three Democrats signed onto the letter: Ag Committee members Brad Ashford, D-Neb., Jim Costa, D-Calif., and the committee's Ranking Member Democrat Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
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