House GOP Targets Natural Resources Defense Council

Committee probe latest example of going after group with opposing views

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and his GOP colleagues on the Natural Resources Committee are targeting an environmental group, saying its business practices are suspicious and are of use to the Chinese. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Natural Resource Republicans say they are launching a probe into the relationship between China and the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the country’s leading environmental groups.

The investigation marks the latest probe by the committee into private groups or non-government organizations that oppose the GOP and Trump administration environmental and public land agenda.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., ask the NRDC to clarify how its stances and advocacy on U.S. environmental policy may be affected by its relationships with foreign entities, chiefly China.

“The Committee is concerned about NRDC’s role in aiding China’s perception management efforts with respect to pollution control and its international standing on environmental issues in ways that may be detrimental to the United States,” the lawmakers wrote. “The NRDC’s relationship with China has many of the criteria identified by U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement as putting an entity at risk of being influenced or coerced by foreign interests.”

The NRDC’s policy positions are backed by “sound science, U.S. law and the public interest,” according to Bob Deans, its director of strategic engagement.

“We work on behalf of every American to protect our people against dangerous pollution and leave our children a livable world,” Deans added. “Those are American values, American goals, and advancing them is manifestly in our national interest, as we have consistently demonstrated for nearly 50 years.”

This probe is not the first by House Natural Resources Republicans targeting advocates with opposing views. Last year, the committee launched a letter and social media rebuttal to outdoor outfitting company Patagonia’s advocacy campaign in opposition to the Trump administration’s national monument rollback for sites in Utah.

The issue, according to Republicans, is that to operate in China, the NRDC must adhere to strict operating rules. To maintain access, the NRDC may be vulnerable to coercion, the lawmakers alleged, which could influence how the group approaches U.S. policy. The NRDC has been one of the chief opponents of the Trump administration deregulatory effort, filing numerous lawsuits to prevent them from going forward.

The lawmakers accused the environmental group of “self-censorship, issue selection bias, and generally refraining from criticizing Chinese officials” in its news releases and other public information.

Should those accusations be true, the letter said, the group could be in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Deans said the NRDC advocates for the environment in China, the world’s most populous country, because it’s a key influencer on the world stage.

“We’re proud of our work, in China and elsewhere, helping to create a more sustainable future for everyone, and we look forward to discussing that work with Chairman Bishop and the committee,” Deans said.

Foreign interference into U.S. energy and environment policy has become a familiar talking point for Republicans as the nation has emerged as a leading supplier of natural gas on the world stage. Earlier this year, House Science Republicans released a report alleging Russian social media efforts to interfere with U.S. energy production and infrastructure initiatives.

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