Top GOP lawmaker not persuaded by green groups’ promises that they aren’t foreign agents

Top GOP lawmaker not persuaded by green groups’ promises that they aren’t foreign agents
© Greg Nash

A top House Republican says he isn’t convinced that two leading green groups aren’t in cahoots with China and Japan to influence United States environmental policy, despite their ardent denial.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopSenate votes to extend key funding mechanism for parks Republicans push back at first climate hearings Climate change on front burner after 8 years of GOP rule MORE (R-Utah) said Thursday he still suspects that two groups — Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) — could be acting as foreign agents, based on lawsuits they’ve filed against U.S. military actions in Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

“Based on the committee's investigation to date, we are concerned that environmental groups that bring such lawsuits may be knowingly or vulnerable to unwittingly serving as proxies for our foreign adversaries,” Bishop said in a statement Thursday, referring to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which he chairs.

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“The Foreign Agents Registration Act is an important mechanism for ensuring that the American people and U.S. government know the source of information and the identity of foreign entities attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws.”

Both the NRDC and CBD sent initial responses to the panel this month, following letters from Bishop and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) asking for documents related to potential foreign influence or control of the groups.

In their responses, both groups denied that they are acting as foreign agents or that they must register with the federal government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

But Bishop isn’t so sure.

CBD sent its response late Wednesday, saying that its actions against a military base in Okinawa, Japan, are fueled by its desire to protect the dugong, an endangered marine mammal.

"If Reps. Bishop and Westerman are truly confused about the center’s motivation and control, it is perhaps because they abuse their positions of power so regularly, and are so deeply influenced by powerful corporate donors, that they are unable to conceive of people being motivated by empathy, public interest and respect for the rule of law and democracy," the group told the committee.

Bishop responded Thursday saying CBD’s “flippant response is disappointing and beneath the dignity of an organization claiming to be a serious voice in environmental policy.”

Outside attorneys for NRDC sent two letters in response to the committee’s demands this month, which The Hill obtained.

In both letters, NRDC denied that its cooperation with the Chinese government and advocacy against certain military training amounts to being a foreign agent, declining to provide documents the GOP lawmakers wanted.

“NRDC’s public interest work in China is part of its mission to protect the environment and public health,” the group wrote. “As the world’s most populous nation, China is a key element in the NRDC’s pursuit of sustainable solutions to the environmental challenges that the planet faces today.”

The committee said NRDC’s responses don’t cut it.

“The incomplete nature of their responses to date along with the failure to provide supporting documents or commit to a firm document production timeline is disconcerting,” a spokeswoman said.

A committee aide said investigators still think their suspicions could be valid.

“What we’re really trying to do is get to the bottom of this. We have this pattern of behavior that is, I think, fairly obviously detrimental to U.S. interests,” the aide said.

The aide went on to deny that Bishop is trying to shut down litigation or other actions to legitimately participate in government, arguing that FARA is not designed to censor speech.

“It really should be thought of like warnings on a cigarette carton. The idea is that if a group is advocating on behalf of, or on the request of — even via an intermediary — a foreign entity, they need to disclose that to the American public, so they American public can take that into account when receiving their information,” the staffer said.