UPDATE, July 25: Rivers’ op-ed appears to have been pulled by The Post and Courier. The link to the commentary now goes to a page that reads, “Error 404 - This page is either no longer available or has been relocated.” A search for phrases from the op-ed on the paper’s site yielded no results.

Charles Rowe, the editorial page editor, didn’t have much to say when asked earlier today if the paper had any update on the situation. Rowe did not immediately respond to another inquiry this afternoon, after the op-ed disappeared.

Rivers, however, hasn’t been quiet. He has repeatedly posted to his Twitter account a letter that indicates he had permission—from a lobbyist—to use industry-written material in his op-ed. 

“The piece was written by a coalition of industries that are terribly concerned about the detrimental impacts this rule will have on property owners across the country and to be used in part or in full as members of the industries see fit,” wrote Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.

The construction industry is part of that coalition, and in his op-ed, Rivers called himself a supporter of homebuilders serving the people of South Carolina. A “supporter” is not quite the same thing as a “member.” But either way, he appears to have used the piece as he—and the people who drafted it—saw fit.  

Original article published July 23 appears below.

CHARLESTON, SC — What does cattle ranching in Wyoming have to do with building homes in South Carolina?

More than you’d think, apparently, judging by a recent newspaper op-ed by a Charleston lawmaker and a PR package from a beef lobbying group in Cheyenne. The two pieces use nearly identical language in their opposition to a controversial EPA proposal that would clarify and expand regulations on small bodies of water.

On Monday, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, The Post and Courier in Charleston, published an op-ed opposing the proposal under the byline of Rep. Samuel Rivers, a Republican pastor who represents the area. The first paragraph declares, “The purpose of this column is to provide South Carolina’s property and business owners with insight into the proposed expansion and the devastating impacts it could have on the building and construction industry in South Carolina.” Later in the piece, Rivers identifies himself as “a supporter of home builders serving the people of South Carolina.” (UPDATE, 7/24: According to public campaign filings with the state Ethics Commission, Rivers received $250 from the SC Builders PAC on June 4.)

So it’s notable that the commentary is a near dead-ringer to a sample op-ed being circulated by the cattle ranchers lobby out west. The stated goal of that piece (see page 7 of this PDF) is to provide “farmers and ranchers with a taste of the proposed expansion and the devastating impacts it could have on their operations.” But six of the 12 paragraphs in the P&C commentary either closely mirror or reflect verbatim the ranching op-ed.

For instance, this is a passage from the document with ties to Big Beef:

Despite Supreme Court rulings striking down broad interpretations of their authority over isolated waters the agencies keep trying to expand federal jurisdiction over ditches, ponds and puddles. The agencies latest attempt is the most brazen, and according to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is “cleverly written,” leading industry to believe the proposal is intended to be an end-run around Congress and the Supreme Court.

Many in the agricultural community have called this proposal the largest land grab in history, and I don’t think that is far off the mark, if at all. If landowners are required to get a CWA permit for spraying pesticides, applying manure, or simply grazing their cattle, there is no way to describe it but “landuse planning.” Once a responsibility of city and county governments, the federal agencies will now have the power to either give you a permit or not and thereby dictate what activities you can perform on your own property.

And here’s a passage from Rep. Rivers’ op-ed:

Despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings striking down broad interpretations of their authority over isolated waters, the agencies keep trying to expand federal jurisdiction over ditches, ponds and puddles. The agencies’ latest attempt is the most brazen, and according to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is “cleverly written,” leading industry to believe the proposal is intended to be an end-run around Congress and the Supreme Court.

Many in the regulated community have called this proposal the largest land grab in history. Once it was the responsibility of city and county governments; the federal agencies will now have the power to either issue a permit or not and thereby dictate what activities you can perform on your own property.

There’s lots more like that.

Corey Hutchins is CJR's Rocky Mountain correspondent based in Colorado. A former alt-weekly reporter in the Palmetto State, he was twice named journalist of the year in the weekly division by the SC Press Association. Hutchins worked on the State Integrity Investigation at the Center for Public Integrity and he has contributed to Slate, The Nation, The Texas Observer, and others. Follow him on Twitter @coreyhutchins or email him at coreyhutchins@gmail.com.