Republicans target green groups over foreign ties

Republicans target green groups over foreign ties
© Kerren Carrion

House Republicans are forcefully taking on the environmental movement, insinuating that some groups are illegally advocating for foreign governments.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopLand and Water Conservation Fund is good for business Trump administration weakens methane pollution standards for drilling on public lands Looking to the historic leasing program to alleviate the maintenance backlog in national parks MORE (R-Utah) and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) launched an investigation earlier this month and have fired off letters to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) demanding documents and answers they say would prove whether the groups are foreign agents.

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“These are groups — one of which, it’s very proud to say, sues the government every 10 days — that have an unusual connection in their support for what the Chinese are doing that are against our military and our environmental issues, especially in the territories,” Bishop told The Hill, hinting at the NRDC, which has boasted about its frequent litigation against the Trump administration.

“There seems to be smoke there. We’re going to try to see whether there’s fire underneath it,” Bishop added.

The investigations, which Bishop said may expand, represent a new front in the increasingly contentious battle between the GOP and the environmental community.

Greens have had their fair share of scrutiny from the right, including a 2014 joint House-Senate probe that accused NRDC of exerting improper influence over the Environmental Protection Agency when it wrote a climate change regulation.

Four GOP senators, meanwhile, are targeting climate change advocacy in another way. They want the National Science Foundation’s internal watchdog to investigate why Climate Central, a nonprofit group, received millions of dollars to help television meteorologists understand the science of climate change. The Republican senators say that amounted to advocacy.

But the probes accusing green groups of acting on behalf of foreign governments in their opposition to the administration’s environmental agenda are a much bolder step.

The probes come as green groups like the NRDC and the CBD have taken on major roles in lobbying and litigating against President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE and congressional Republicans’ agenda.

The NRDC is among the most prolific lobbying spenders among green groups, and both organizations have sued the administration dozens of times.

The new scrutiny also comes as Washington is increasingly focused on the issue of foreign lobbying, which must be disclosed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortHillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe Comey: Mueller may be in 'fourth quarter' of Russia probe Flynn sentencing move spurs questions about duration of Mueller probe MORE faces potential prison time for allegedly acting as a foreign lobbyist without complying with the law, and his former associate, Richard Gates, was also accused of similar offenses.

In their letter to the NRDC, Bishop and Westerman question the group’s relationship with China, where it has a significant presence. They say the green group has helped the communist country with “perception management efforts” related to reducing pollution and how the world views China environmentally.

“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,” they wrote.

Bob Deans, the NRDC’s director of strategic engagement, said the organization is working in the interests of the United States, not those of China.

“NRDC is a public interest group, working at the behest of our senior leadership, to advance the long-established national interest in protecting the environment and public health. Any suggestion to the contrary is false,” he said in a statement.

China, Deans said, is the world’s most populous country, so its role in the global environment is significant.

“That’s why we’re working there, along with hundreds of other nongovernmental organizations,” Deans told The Hill.

For the CBD, the Republican probe is focusing on efforts the group has taken to stop the Marine Corps from relocating an air station in Okinawa, Japan.

“CBD appears to have engaged in political activities within the United States on behalf of the government of the Japanese Prefecture of Okinawa and other foreign entities to influence plans regarding MCAS Futenma’s relocation,” they said.

Kierán Suckling, the CBD’s executive director, denied Bishop’s charges.

“He’s using our very reasonable opposition to the Department of Defense breaking environmental laws as a publicity stunt, as a way to malign and attack environmentalists who are opposed to the Republican agenda,” Suckling told The Hill.

“He’s taking a page right out of Joe McCarthy’s playbook,” he said, referring to the senator who led an infamous crusade against communism in the 1950s. “But he seems not to realize that it’s 2018, and spreading fear of a communist attack on America’s just not going to work anymore.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), the Natural Resources Committee’s top Democrat, sees it as a sinister attempt by Bishop to shut down opposition to Trump and the GOP.

“It’s intimidation. By going after these organizations on pointless issues, it’s to intimidate,” he said.

“Part of what’s prevented the worst from happening in terms of regulatory rollbacks and other administrative actions by the administration has been the litigation that’s gone on across the country. And in some cases the litigation has been very effective,” he said.

Grijalva compared the probe to defamation lawsuits filed to try to stop legitimate criticisms.

“Except it’s being done by Congress,” he said.

Bishop denied that he’s trying to stop lobbying, litigation or other activities, but he does look down on the groups for suing the administration.

“If they were decent Americans, they wouldn’t be suing their government in the first place,” he said. Though, Bishop also added “that has nothing to do with it.”

The NRDC did not say how it would respond to Bishop or whether it has already.

Suckling, though, said the CBD doesn’t plan on complying with Bishop’s document and information requests.

“We’re going to send a letter telling him to buzz off,” he said.