Senators James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., recently introduced a bill (S.876) to reauthorize the Environmental Education Act. A version of this proposal is included in the education bill (S.1), recently passed by the Senate. Although touted by supporters as simply training in the appreciation of nature and science, federal environmental education has used taxpayer funds to promote the agenda of those administering the programs. If members of Congress want to ensure that the government does not fund advocacy and miseducation, their best option is to eliminate funding these programs, which have been operating without legal authorization since 1996. A review of how the law has worked in the past may help demonstrate this reality.
In 1990, the Environmental Education Act created the EPA Office of Environmental Education, which provides educational materials, seminars, and other programs. The office also administers environmental education grants and environmental awards programs. A special task force as well as the Council on Environmental Quality provide additional grants and awards.
Educational Partnerships. Perhaps the law’s most egregious aspect is the funding of outside groups whose main goal is advocacy. For example, the law created the Environmental Education Training and Partnership (EETAP). Under this provision, EPA funds a group of organizations that are supposed to provide support and training to environmental professionals. EETAP members produce educational guides for professors, hold conferences, and provide training. EPA awarded $9 million to the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) to serve as the EETAP leader from 1995 to 2000. The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is now the designated leader and is slated to receive more than $5 million over the next several years, according to EPA. There are clear indicators that these groups have violated the federal government prohibition on using federal funds for lobbying activities. Consider a couple examples:
¨ The National American Association for Environmental Education, EETAP’s lead partner for 1995-2000, produced an “action handbook,” which it distributes at federally funded environmental education seminars. It’s basically a how-to guide for lobbying and includes a section titled “Ten Pointers for Successful Lobbying.”
¨ In 1994, EPA funded a video that the agency admitted had violated regulations against using such funds for lobbying. When Rep. Bob Schaeffer, R-Colo., inquired about the video’s content last October, the agency said that it had asked its partner to return the federal funding and to stop distributing the video because of obvious violations. It is not clear whether the agency pulled the video before or after the Schaeffer letter.
A review of the EETAP Web page and that of its members reveals a wide range of biased and scientifically questionable information developed by EETAP for educators. In addition, the pages promote the work of various other advocacy groups, using federal resources to direct the public to a network of like-minded activists.
EPA Educational Materials. Educational materials available on EPA’s Web sites also are telling. On the headquarter’s page, the materials under the “Kids” link range from superficial information to misinformation to shameless self-promotion. One section includes a story titled “When Greenville Turned Brown,” which tells the tale of a town that was saved by the federal Superfund law and EPA from the “old Drumleaky factory.” So the story goes:
¨ “From factory smoke stacks came clouds gray and black, and drums filled with old globby glue were piled high out back. Not far away was a creek lined with trees, the fish that had lived there were now forced to flee. … The EPA experts were soon on the scene, with shovels and drills they were ready to clean. … The EPA experts soon came up with a plan. To clean up the water, the air, and the land. … The factory reopened, with new rules in place, for preventing pollution and cleaning up waste.”