In the battle against regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency, members of Congress feel they have found new ground on which to skirmish.

Lawmakers believe an EPA-funded informational campaign about its Clean Water Rule crossed the line into advocacy and “propaganda,” at variance with federal law.

A report by the Government Accountability Office in December had already put the agency on notice about these practices.

North Missouri Congressman Sam Graves, long a critic of EPA policies, spoke out this week about the “covert propaganda” spread by the agency regarding a campaign for stricter regulations on agriculture in Washington state.

“The EPA has shown that it’s willing to do whatever it takes to force its radical agenda on rural America,” Graves, a Tarkio Republican, said in a statement.

“Specifically, the EPA was paying to put up billboards with pictures of polluted water and dead fish in order to convince states to build costly 100-foot stream buffers around farms.”

The December GAO report found the environmental agency violated several regulatory provisions that govern the spending of tax dollars, in this case on “its rulemaking efforts to define ‘Waters of the United States’ under the Clean Water Act.”

One billboard in northwestern Washington state showed cattle standing in a stream and included the words, “Unregulated agriculture is putting our waterways at risk.” The billboard also listed the campaign website: www.whatsupstream.com. “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,” Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of that chamber’s Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said earlier this month.

“Our farmers and ranchers are stewards of the land and want to see our natural resources protected as much as any other American.”

Last week, 145 U.S. representatives, including Graves and Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, signed a letter asking EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to investigate the approval of the funds and the execution of the project.

“Federal law is clear, and the EPA knows better than to be engaged in the misuse of taxpayer dollars for anti-farmer publicity campaigns that lobby for more regulations,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, the chief author of the letter and who represents a district in Washington state.

Graves said he had introduced legislation called the Stop the EPA Act, meant to reform the agency’s oversight and require congressional approval of any regulation with a financial impact of more than $50 million.

“It also completely wipes any rule that Congress rejects off the books and stops all current regulations until they are able to be reviewed,” the Missouri lawmaker said.

Ken Newton can be reached at ken.newton@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.