For the past month, the EPA has aired paid advertisements on the Hispanic Radio Network. Among other topics, these ads feature what some members of Congress consider a plug for the president’s Clear Skies Initiative. Host Steve Curwood talks with Congressman Henry Waxman about why these ads may be illegal. EPA spokeswoman Lisa Harrison responds.
CURWOOD: Listeners to the Hispanic Radio Network have been hearing a lot about the environment from the Bush administration this month.
[MUSIC PLAYING, WOMAN SPEAKING IN SPANISH, BEEPING OF HEART MONITOR, WHIRRING OF EQUIPMENT]
CURWOOD: This paid advertisement is from the Environmental Protection Agency. It touts Clear Skies, the president’s bill before Congress to reduce power plant pollution.
[MAN SPEAKING IN SPANISH, MUSIC PLAYING]
CURWOOD: The ad is part of the agency’s educational drive during National Hispanic Heritage Month. Lisa Harrison, EPA spokeswoman, describes the campaign this way.
CURWOOD: The general gist in one of them is specifically focused on asthma. And the sound effects are a child wheezing and a mother discussing how her son has asthma, and they often go to the emergency room. And she believes it’s very important that the government to take steps to reduce air pollution, and the Clear Skies Initiative, if enacted, will be required to reduce toxic air emissions by 70 percent for mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, and urges members of the Spanish speaking community to work for a better environment and log onto EPA’s Clear Skies webpage.
CURWOOD: This message, though, has raised concerns with several members of Congress, who say the EPA may have violated federal law. Among them is Democratic Representative Henry Waxman of California and he joins me from Washington. Congressman Waxman, what is your concern about these ads?
WAXMAN: Well, it’s really unprecedented for EPA to pay for advertising to promote a legislative proposal. In the past, the Environmental Protection Agency has put out public service announcements that might relate to air pollution issues, but this is using taxpayers’ funds for propaganda, for lobbying to advance a legislative agenda. And it’s in violation of – it appears, anyway, to be in violation of the prohibition in the appropriations for the EPA because it says, specifically, no funds can be used for propaganda purposes. And there’s also an anti-lobbying act which prohibits federal officials from engaging in campaigns about pending legislative matters. So there’s a question whether this whole ad campaign is legal.
CURWOOD: If the agency has violated these anti-lobbying, and what’s in the appropriations for it, what are the possible repercussions here?
WAXMAN: The possible repercussions are for the Justice Department to take action, and primarily to tell them to stop. And we’re trying to get to the bottom of it. We’re trying to find out who authorized this campaign, how much money is EPA spending, what parts of the country are they targeting. These are the kinds of questions that I think we ought to know more about.
CURWOOD: Who do you think is responsible for these ads, Congressman?
WAXMAN: Somebody in the administration who’s looking at the fact that the public is starting to see the Bush administration as hostile to environmental protection, even in the area of clean air. And they’ve targeted, as best we can tell, a very specific group. They’ve targeted an Hispanic audience. They’ve run ads on Spanish language radio, they’re doing a full page ad that we know about in a Spanish language newspaper. So it appears that they might have taken polls and said that the Hispanic population – probably no different from the rest of the population – is concerned about the Bush administration’s handling of the environment, and they’re trying to convince them that they should trust this administration.
CURWOOD: Lisa Harrison, spokeswoman for the EPA, says the agency is working to meet Congressman Waxman’s requests. But she argues the agency’s ad campaign is within the law.
HARRISON: Obviously, we do not agree with the charges. We obviously discussed this with our lawyers but, in our opinion the public information efforts do not violate the anti-lobbying act or the appropriations act lobbying restrictions specifically because they don’t expressly request members of the public to contact Congress in support of the pending Clear Skies legislation which would be the definition of lobbying.
CURWOOD: The EPA’s ad campaign on Hispanic Radio is scheduled to run through the end of October.
[MUSIC: Unknown Artist “Track 36” LOE BEDS IN A HURRY (No Label – Year)]
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