Accused by a Republican congressman of illegal lobbying, EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner lashed back Saturday, saying she would not be intimidated or silenced.
At issue is a fact sheet the Environmental Protection Agency recently sent to some 150 non-governmental businesses and interest groups. It criticized the Republicans’ Contract With America, saying it would “block the protections that Americans demand and deserve.”
Rep. David M. McIntosh, R-Ind., called the mail lobbying and, in a letter March 2 to Browner, he threatened an investigation by his Government Reform subcommittee on regulatory affairs.
“It should be clear that actions by EPA or other executive agencies that appear to violate the anti-lobbying laws will be investigated … and where appropriate, referred to the attorney general for criminal investigation,” wrote the freshman lawmaker. He also requested an exhaustive audit of EPA communications strategies and mailing lists.
The decades-old Anti-Lobbying Act bars federal agencies from paying for any correspondence, other than in response to individual inquiries, intended to influence the vote of a member of Congress.
Browner responded politely to McIntosh in writing, saying she was surprised by his letter and would comply with his requests. But in an interview Saturday, Browner was less reserved.
“This is an effort to intimidate me and the EPA during an important debate on public health and the environment - perhaps the most important in all of history - and I will not be silenced,” she said.
McIntosh spokesman Chris Jones said Saturday that the chairman’s goal “is not to intimidate but to ensure that EPA is conforming with the law and if they are, then that’s fine. And if not, Chairman McIntosh has an obligation under the law to investigate.”
In a letter to McIntosh Saturday, White House counsel Abner J. Mikva dismissed the lawmaker’s interpretation of the Anti-Lobbying Act as wrong and said the EPA materials in question do not appear to violate the statute.
“To accuse a federal employee of criminal wrongdoing … should not be undertaken lightly or for political purposes,” wrote Mikva. “I would hope that it is not your intention to accuse individuals of purported ‘crimes’ … in order to thwart legitimate activities by the EPA.”
Browner said the fact sheet was distributed to organizations on an established mailing list as part of the agency’s routine public information function. The fact sheet warned that regulatory reforms advanced by House Republicans would roll back health and environmental protections under several acts.
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