EPA violates federal law with WOTUS social media campaign; Artificial light stops coral reproduction

Coral polyps out at night.
Wikimedia Commons


According to a ruling by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated publicity, propaganda and anti-lobbying provisions in federal law with a social media campaign for its Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule.

The EPA formally adopted the WOTUS regulation in June 2015, but has since halted implementation of the law due to a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in October. Several states — including Colorado — and environmental groups have challenged the rule for either being an example of federal overreach or weakening the provisions of the original Clean Water Act of 1972.

But in 2014 and the first half of 2015, the EPA used social media, specifically Thunderclap, which sends out timed messages through Facebook and Twitter, to promote the WOTUS rule. Although in theory the use of social media by a federal agency doesn’t violate propaganda laws, “EPA engaged in covert propaganda when the agency did not identify EPA’s role as the creator of the Thunderclap message to the target audience,” GAO said in its summary of the decision.

Furthermore, the ruling states that the agency participated in “grass-roots lobbying” by linking certain blog posts petitioning people to call on Congress to support the rule. “Both of the external webpages contained link buttons to contact Congress in support of the proposed rule while several bills were pending that would prevent implementation of the rule,” the ruling states. “In this context, we view the appeals as urging contact in opposition to pending legislation.”

The EPA disputes the GAO’s ruling. “We use social media tools just like all organizations to stay connected and inform people across the country about our activities,” Liz Purchia, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement reported by the New York Times. “At no point did the EPA encourage the public to contact Congress or any state legislature.”


Research conducted on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area recently found that exposure to artificial light may be detrimental to the reproduction cycles of coral. These organisms spawn once a year, during which changes in moonlight intensity trigger the mass release of eggs and sperm. A joint study released by the University of Queensland and the University of Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, tracked corals exposed to natural moonlight, artificial light or complete darkness. The scientists found that the organisms exposed to no light or artificial light did not spawn at all. Furthermore, the study found that coral adjusts to the differences in light exposure at a much faster rate than previously believed.  According to the research, changes in nocturnal light can disrupt the organisms in as quickly as seven days.

“Our results on the effects of light on the timing of spawning are crucial because sexual reproduction is one of the most important processes for the persistence of reefs,” the study concludes.

Although there is minimal light pollution around the Great Barrier Reef, reefs already protected in the Gulf of Aqaba are subject to artificial light from the surrounding coastlines of Jordan and Israel.

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