Two billboards that violate federal rules governing EPA funding, which appear to lobby for new state legislation to limit farmers activities that environmental groups claim pollute waterways, has caused quite a stir in Washington state and Washington, D.C.

A coalition of environmental groups in Washington state put up two billboards with the same photo and headline promote “What’s Upstream,” a campaign developed by a public relations firm to link agriculture with water pollution. It appears that a large amount of the money for the campaign and billboards are being financed by an EPA grant to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and controlled by the Swinomish Indian tribe.

According to regulations, the billboards should mention financial support from the EPA, but they don’t, and EPA officials have agreed it was a mistake. The second concern is that money is being used for political lobbying, which is also contrary to use of federal grant funds. Of course, the EPA says the What’s Upstream campaign isn’t strictly political lobbying. Third, farmers and legislators from agricultural districts see the EPA aligning itself with anti-agriculture forces of environmental activists, and this isn’t appropriate for an agency that should be unbiased before evaluating specific regulations.

The billboards show three cows standing in a stream with the headline: “Unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk.” The environmental groups along with the Indian tribe—Puget Soundkeeper, Western Environmental Law Center and Center for Environmental Law and Policy—say the What’s Upstream is simply of educational nature.

This whole situation about the billboards and the EPA handing out of grant money was first uncovered by Capital Press, but this has grown into more than a state issue.

The chairmen of two Senate committees are calling for an investigation into billboards in Washington state that blame agriculture for polluting waterways because they apparently were funded by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Agriculture Committee are requesting an audit and investigation of the EPA grant.

Sen. Roberts released a statement regarding the anti-agriculture billboard. “This disturbing billboard is a bold example of exactly what America’s farmers and ranchers complain about all the time: the EPA has an agenda antagonistic to producers. Whether it’s overly burdensome and costly regulations or something as obvious as this malicious billboard, the EPA has much to answer for in maligning those that grow the food and fiber to feed the world. Our farmers and ranchers are stewards of the land and want to see our natural resources protected as much as any other American.

“While there are legal concerns with the lack of disclosure of EPA’s involvement, the billboard is another example of EPA’s improper practice of encouraging the lobbying of legislators. How and why the EPA has allowed taxpayer dollars to be used to attack any industry, including our vital agriculture producers, demands answers.”