GOP asks green group to open its files

Republicans are putting the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) under the microscope as they comb through the green group’s communications with federal regulators.   

For the NRDC, the investigation highlights how its stature has risen in Washington, to the point where it is seen as one of the heaviest hitters — and biggest targets — in the environmental movement.

Republicans say the group has been pulling the strings as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) crafts sweeping rules aimed at reducing climate change.

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Sen. David VitterDavid VitterGOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Louisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator Louisiana Republicans: This isn’t like Sandy MORE (La.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, launched an investigation last month into what role the group played in crafting the regulations.

They charge that emails between the NRDC and the EPA show that the proposed carbon pollution rule for power plants was modeled after a plan put forward by the green group.

The NRDC and the agency deny the charges of collusion and say their communications were part of the normal regulatory process, including consultations with lobbyists.

The green group said the congressional probe into their advocacy sets a dangerous precedent.

“There’s no pleasure in this. Nobody wants to be investigated,” said David Goldston, the NRDC’s top lobbyist.

“That’s why investigations are potent tools of intimidation,” he said.

Goldston said the NRDC is taking the investigation seriously, but did not say whether it would respond to a letter the lawmakers sent last month seeking “all documents and communications” between the NRDC and the EPA over the climate rule proposal.

Goldston wrote two blog posts about Vitter and Issa’s investigation, though he declined to speak further about his group’s response.

In the posts, Goldston challenges the Republican allegations of collusion while framing the investigation as an attempt to scare the NRDC for its legitimate advocacy.

“The letter is awash in dark and ominous language about collusion and secrecy,” Goldston wrote after receiving the lawmakers’ request.

“But a close reading — well, anything more than skimming, actually — leads one to wonder:  What exactly is it that NRDC is being accused of?  How does David Vitter think policy should be made?”

A month later, Vitter and Issa released a set of emails they said show the inner workings of the NRDC’s advocacy at the EPA.

For example, in 2010, NRDC lawyer David Doniger and Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyAs oral arguments approach, Clean Power Plan remains a threat to our most vulnerable EPA blasted over lack of protection of minorities U.S. and Puerto Rico must cooperate on Zika MORE, who led the agency’s air pollution office then and is now it administrator, congratulated each other for a court settlement that obligated the EPA to write the power plant rule.

Goldston took to the blog again to challenge the lawmakers’ contention that the emails showed collusion.

“Even a cursory review shows that the e-mails he’s released indicate that nothing is amiss; there’s no collusion, no conspiracy, no problem — just an advocacy group and an agency going about their normal business,” Goldston argued.

Once again, Goldston accused the lawmakers of being bullies.

“Congress has not been especially good at legislating of late,” he wrote. “It should not fill up its time with bullying.”

The NRDC also took the latest release of emails as an opportunity for advocacy, tweeting links to news stories about it along with a form allowing readers to show support for the rule in messages to the EPA.

The EPA has also defended its work on the climate rule. It has consistently argued that, while it used a general outline from the NRDC, it consulted hundreds of stakeholders for its proposal and did not give the green group special treatment.

“Despite the full breadth and depth of the unprecedented outreach EPA engaged in to formulate and develop the Clean Power Plan proposal, some continue to push a flawed, cherry-picked, narrative that simply ignores the well-documented and widely reported and recognized sweep and range of the agency’s engagement with the public, states and stakeholders over the past 14 months,” Tom Reynolds wrote in a blog post about the latest statements from Republicans.

Vitter thinks the NRDC should be ashamed by the records he released.

“They seem more than happy to take credit for writing the job-killing carbon rule without considering how it affects American businesses and everyday people,” he said in a statement.