Energy & Environment

House Republicans continue push for questioning over environmentalist's foreign ties

Two Republican members of Congress are pushing forward with a crusade to question various environmental groups' connections to foreign governments and potential work as foreign agents.

Chairman of the House Natural Resources committee Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Oversight and Investigations subcommittee Chairman Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) sent a letter Wednesday to World Resources Institute (WRI) President Andrew Steer asking him to provide information on work WRI has done with the Chinese government.

"Given these emerging trends, and the apparent strong ties between the People's Republic of China, the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and certain U.S.-based tax-exempt organizations, the Committee seeks clarification on the nature of such organizations' focus on U.S. environmental and natural resources policy," the letter reads.

Bishop and Westerman charged the Chinese government with pressuring foreign media and governments to "self-censor when addressing sensitive subjects or risk retaliation."

"[China] masks its political motives behind laudable human-interest or cultural projects, blurring the battle line with its adversaries," they added. "Chinese officials continually work to control environmental information and news stories in an effort to counter the country's status as the world's largest polluter."

Bishop and Westerman said in Wednesday's letter that "the Committee is examining WRI'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."

WRI is an international non-profit resource center that focuses on issues related to climate change and renewable energy, among other things.

In June, the Republican duo launched an investigation and fired off a number of letters to U.S.-based environmental organizations demanding documents that they said would prove whether the groups were acting as Chinese foreign agents in bad faith against U.S. energy policy.

"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 at the time, hinting at the Natural Resources Defense Council (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 in June.

The NRDC and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) were among two of the groups who received such requests from the congressmen earlier this year.

Green groups 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.

The probes come as greens like the NRDC and the CBD have taken on major roles in lobbying and litigating against President Trump and congressional Republicans' agenda.

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.

Timothy Cama contributed to this report.

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