FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—What began as a congressional probe into the role of environmental advocacy groups, left-leaning foundations, and “dark money” entities in pushing to ban gas stoves has opened new avenues of inquiry into the influence of alleged foreign agents for China and other nations.
Since March, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has sent letters to some of those players inquiring about their relationship with the Biden administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent federal agency.
If the communist government in Beijing can use such advocacy groups as a conduit for achieving policy goals, it could have severe implications for America’s economic standing, Cruz warned, saying:
The connections between green-energy advocacy organizations and foreign governments, including and especially China, are deeply concerning and merit significant investigation and scrutiny. These two groups share the same basic goals: increasing America’s dependence on foreign supply chains and destroying America’s economic prosperity. Radical environmentalists use climate alarmism to advance those goals, ignoring the fact that China is responsible for emitting over a fourth of global carbon dioxide and a third of the world’s greenhouse gases.
Since his initial letters seeking information, Cruz has joined with House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., to follow up on inquiries into environmental activism aimed at implementing a government ban on gas stoves.
Cruz and Comer also call for closer scrutiny of the relationship between environmental advocacy groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and hostile foreign powers.
Widely known as the NRDC, the New York-based nonprofit is well endowed and has over $180 million in assets, according to the Capital Research Center, a Washington think tank that tracks nonprofits. The nonprofit’s relationship with Communist China figures prominently into ongoing congressional investigations.
‘Substantial Ties’ to Communist China
The Natural Resources Defense Council “has substantial ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” Cruz and Comer say in a joint letter in August to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the nation’s highest law enforcement officer as head of the Justice Department.
“Both the NRDC China Program Directors are former CCP officials,” the Cruz-Comer letter says. “On NRDC’s Chinese-language site (which provides information different from the English-language site), NRDC explains it ‘has been carrying out environmental protection work in China since the 1990s’ and ‘actively cooperates and communicates’ with several Chinese government agencies.”
The lawmakers’ letter adds: “Moreover, NRDC acts as a mouthpiece for Chinese propaganda, signaling that it either takes direction from the CCP or that it is willing to self-censor to maintain a positive relationship with the communist regime.”
Cruz and Comer also suggest that the Natural Resources Defense Council and other advocacy groups are attempting “to skirt compliance” with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
This federal law requires individuals and organizations to disclose any partnership, activities, and lobbying efforts on behalf of foreign governments or foreign interests. The Justice Department enforces the statute.
“It is likely that some environmental groups pushing clean energy policies here in the U.S. are acting as foreign agents, but have not registered as such in violation of FARA,” Cruz and Comer say in their letter to Garland.
Prior to partnering with Comer, Cruz sent individual letters to five organizations: Consumer Reports, the New York-based nonprofit that publishes a magazine of the same name; the Rocky Mountain Institute, an environmental think tank based in Colorado; The Climate Imperative Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group based in San Francisco; the Windward Fund, which is part of the larger “dark money” network known as Arabella Advisors; and Rewiring America, a left-of-center nonprofit established by the Windward Fund as a special project.
Stacey Abrams, who ran twice unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia as the Democrat candidate, joined Rewiring America as a special counsel last March.
Cruz and Comer sent joint letters to Consumer Reports, the Climate Imperative Foundation, and Rewiring America in May to follow up on Cruz’s initial inquiries. Copies of all the letters addressed to suspected unregistered foreign agents may be found here, on Cruz’s Senate press page.
In an email statement Wednesday to The Daily Signal, Consumer Reports defended its position on gas stoves while maintaining that it wasn’t influenced by outside actors:
Consumer Reports is not advocating for a ban on gas stoves. Last year, CR tested gas stoves for emissions, and found high levels of nitrogen oxide in some scenarios. We advised people how to reduce the risks with ventilation, like opening a window or installing a range hood. We also offer the pros and cons of going electric.
Our tests and results are always completely independent from any outside organization or influence. At CR, we believe in consumer choice and providing people with the evidence they need to make the best decision for their needs and lifestyle.
The Daily Signal asked the Justice Department whether Garland, as attorney general, had any response to the letter from Cruz and Comer. The department had not responded as of publication time.
The Daily Signal asked the Natural Resources Defense Council to respond to the allegations that it may operate as a foreign agent without registering with the Justice Department. The Daily Signal did the same with other advocacy groups that heard from Cruz and Comer.
So far, only Consumer Reports and the NRDC responded.
“NRDC receives no funding from the Chinese government and does the bidding of no government anywhere,” NRDC spokesman Bob Deans told The Daily Signal in an email. “Assertions to the contrary are false.”
However, Cruz and Comer insist in their letter to the attorney general that the Natural Resources Defense Council has maintained “obvious ties to China” while making significant inroads with “key government officials” in the U.S.
Looking at Biden Allies
The lawmakers contend, for example, that former Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Biden’s special envoy on climate issues, has “worked hand-in-glove with the NRDC and other radical environmental groups.”
Comer’s Oversight and Accountability Committee obtained emails between Kerry and environmental groups that show the Natural Resources Defense Council “appears to lead on multiple initiatives.”
The NRDC’s influence with the Biden administration isn’t limited to its collaborative efforts with Kerry, who was Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2004.
One of the organization’s past presidents and CEOs is Gina McCarthy, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency who was Biden’s top domestic adviser on climate issues before leaving the White House in September.
The Daily Signal sought comment from Kerry and McCarthy and will update this article if either or both responds.
The Natural Resources Defense Council also has burrowed into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, the agency that regulates interstate transmission of natural gas, oil, and electricity, according to Freedom of Information Act records.
Since May 2022, the nonprofit Institute for Energy Research, which supports free-market energy policies, has filed a series of lawsuits against FERC under the Freedom of Information Act that point to coordinated efforts between the NRDC and the government commission.
Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, said in a phone interview that American consumers should be concerned about the influence exerted by the NRDC in the Biden White House and the Democratic Party as a whole.
“The NRDC has a long history of close collusion with the Democratic Party,” Pyle told The Daily Signal, adding:
During the run-up to what the Obama administration called the Clean Power Plan, which should be called the Creating Poverty Plan, it was widely reported that NRDC practically drafted the entire plan. The email records we have from the Biden administration through FOIA [the Freedom of Information Act] point to yet another example of how the Democratic Party has merged with NRDC.
‘Providing Cover for China’
The climate agenda advanced by the Natural Resources Defense Council in cooperation with the Democratic Party ultimately works to the disadvantage of middle- and lower-income Americans whom it claims to represent, Pyle said.
“The big money donors to the NRDC are not going to be impacted by the high energy costs that result from the policies the NRDC advocates,” he said. “The high gas prices, the high electricity prices, and higher food prices that result from the inflationary impacts that we have thanks to Bidenomics will fall on average Americans and Americans with modest incomes. A big chunk of the inflation we are seeing comes from policies promoted by the NRDC.”
With regard to China, Pyle said the Natural Resources Defense Council goes to great lengths to avoid circulating negative publicity about the communist government while persistently criticizing the United States.
“They continually bash American energy producers while providing cover for China, which has an abysmal environmental record, and also uses slaves to build their solar panels,” he said.
Cruz apparently hasn’t received what he considers to be substantial responses from environmental groups that address the questions and concerns he has raised.
For example, the Cruz-Comer letter to the Climate Imperative Foundation states that it “responded with only a general, and vague, narrative” and sidestepped specific questions. The lawmakers’ letter asserts that suspected foreign agents are part of an “interrelated network to which NRDC also belongs.”
The Climate Imperative Network, for example, made a grant of $2.9 million to the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2021 to “accelerat[e] early peaking and decarbonization of China’s power sector,” according to the Cruz-Comer letter.
As The Daily Signal previously reported, foreign influence over U.S. environmental advocacy groups have been the subject of investigations by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee in 2017 and 2018.
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