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Published: Monday, 10/20/2003

Politics to propaganda

THE Bush Administration has tripped over its political feet big time with a taxpayer-supported advertising campaign by the federal Environmental Protection Agency touting President Bush's “Clear Skies” initiative.

The ads, aired on Hispanic radio stations nationwide and published in Spanish-language newspapers in late September and early October, sang the praises of a legislative plan pending before Congress that is widely viewed in the environmental community as a weakening of clean-air laws.

Such ads, according to published reports, may be illegal. Federal law prohibits federal agencies from spending money on public relations efforts to influence Congress, and the EPA's own appropriations bill bans expenditures for “publicity or propaganda purposes ... to support or defeat legislation pending before Congress, except in presentation to Congress itself.”

The claim by an EPA official that the ads, coinciding with Hispanic Heritage Month, are merely “public information” doesn't pass the straight-face test, even with an administration that already has politicized the agency to an unprecedented degree.

The radio ads feature a Hispanic mother with a wheezing child and declare that the legislation “would create purer air, better health, and a more brilliant future in the United States.”

The EPA won't divulge how much the ad campaign cost, but it is clearly an inappropriate use of public money.

It does, however, fit the pattern of an administration that has boldly sought to weaken all sorts of environmental regulations, most notably provisions of the federal Clean Air Act that require coal-burning power plants to install state of the art anti-pollution devices when major changes are made to the facilities.

The ads leave little doubt that the administration has crossed the line from politics to propaganda, and may find it difficult to get out of a legal jam as well.

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