Two billboards in Washington that accuse farmers of polluting water
violated a federal rule by failing to note that the Environmental
Protection Agency funds the group that put up the signs, an EPA official
A coalition of environmental groups and the
Swinomish Indian tribe put up the billboards in Olympia and Bellingham
to promote What’s Upstream, a media campaign crafted by a public
relations firm to link agriculture with water pollution.
groups used an EPA grant to fund the billboards, but didn’t credit the
agency’s financial support, a standard requirement for recipients of EPA
EPA regional policy adviser Bill Dunbar said Thursday the
agency checked the billboards after an inquiry from the Capital Press.
“It looks like a violation,” he said.
The EPA notified the
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission that the billboards are out of
compliance, Dunbar said. The commission, an intermediary between EPA and
the tribe, was expected to contact the Swinomish, Dunbar said.
said he assumed the tribe will take action. “I can’t imagine the tribe
has any interest in being out of compliance,” he said.
Efforts to reach the tribe and fisheries commission were unsuccessful.
tribe has teamed with Puget Soundkeeper, the Western Environmental Law
Center, and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy for the What’s
Upstream project, which includes social media, and online and radio
advertising, and a letter-writing campaign to state legislators.
The tribe has received EPA grants totaling nearly $570,000, primarily for the services of Seattle PR firm Strategies 360.
Farm groups protest that the campaign smears farmers, ignores current regulations and misuses public funds.
Baron, director of Save Family Farming in northwest Washington, said he
was encouraged that EPA recognized that the billboards need to cite
He said, however, EPA should also acknowledge
that the billboards and entire What’s Upstream campaign amount to
lobbying, which the EPA grants also prohibit.
“I continue to be
amazed that they say What’s Upstream is not politically motivated, is
not a political attack,” Baron said. “Our primary concern is still that
it’s giving an entirely false impression of farmers and regulations.”
has been kept informed since the tribe hired Strategies 360 more than
three years ago. The tribe has used federal funds originally awarded to
the fisheries commission to educate the public about fish restoration.
The commission represents 20 tribes in Western Washington.
says it concluded What’s Upstream has not broken prohibitions on
lobbying with federal funds because it has not advocated for or against
specific legislation. The group’s website includes a “Take Action” link
in which people can send form letters to their state legislators asking
lawmakers impose mandatory 100-foot buffers between farm fields and
The billboards assert: “Unregulated agriculture is
putting our waterways at risk.” A photo shows three cows standing in a
stream. Farm groups complain these and other images used by What’s
Upstream inaccurately portray farm practices in Washington.
Swinomish Tribe’s environmental policy director, Larry Wasserman, said
in an earlier interview he does not know where the cow photo was taken.