A new Biden administration rule aimed at reducing carbon emissions would give approval authority over large U.S. defense contracts to a little-known British environmentalist group that just incorporated two weeks ago.
Under the White House’s proposed rule change, a London-based group called the Science Based Targets Initiative that is funded by the Democratic Party’s main dark money network would be responsible for approving the carbon emissions reduction plans of large federal contractors.
The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) is a fee-based service that helps companies set emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and verifies their progress. But its foreign status and murky financial background raise questions about the Biden administration’s decision to outsource its vetting process to the group. Critics say the proposal would give SBTi enormous veto power over American defense contracts and access to potentially sensitive data about U.S. military suppliers.
"I think Americans will be upset when they realize the Biden administration is trying to put a bunch of unelected bureaucrats and a climate activist group—headquartered in London—in charge of long-term planning for our national defense contractors," said Travis Fisher, a senior energy research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
The rule change is expected to impact 671 large contractors across multiple federal agencies, and steer an estimated $1.2 million in mandatory fees to SBTi each year, according to the proposal, which is still awaiting approval from government administrators.
Although SBTi publicly launched in 2015, the organization didn’t officially exist until June 26, when it filed incorporation papers in London, according to United Kingdom business records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. The group is not registered in the United States. SBTi didn't respond to a request for comment.
Before its incorporation, SBTi was a partnership co-managed by five activist groups, including the "We Mean Business Coalition," a front group for a $900 million left-leaning dark money organization called the New Venture Fund. The off-the-books arrangement allowed SBTi to operate without filing financial disclosures for nearly a decade.
In 2015, the New Venture Fund, which promotes Democratic policies through an array of unincorporated shell organizations, helped launch and fund SBTi through the We Mean Business Coalition.
"Since its inception, [the We Mean Business Coalition] has been funding SBTi and mobilizing business towards science-based targets. One of our earliest milestones was reaching 150 corporate commitments to SBTi in 2016," said the We Mean Business website, where it also described itself as a "project of the New Venture Fund."
SBTi's connection to the New Venture Fund could raise questions about its political leanings. The New Venture Fund is facing scrutiny over its charity status, after the Free Beacon reported this week on a trove of internal documents and whistleblower allegations that indicate the group engaged in prohibited political activities during the 2020 elections. The documents also show that the liberal network maintains a high level of involvement in groups that it funds.
SBTi has also faced criticism from former allies over potential conflicts of interest and lack of transparency. Bill Baue, a sustainability expert who served on SBTi’s technical advisory board until 2020, described its operations as "ad hoc and haphazard" and compared the group’s leadership to the "Keystone Cops."
Baue said the organization doesn’t appear to have any procedures in place to address financial conflicts, ethics issues, or proper governance. When he voiced these issues internally, and later, in a formal complaint, he said leadership brushed him off and refused to respond.
SBTi would be "operating in a quasi-regulatory stance" under the Biden administration’s proposed rule change, Baue told the Free Beacon. "And yet it doesn’t have the kind of checks and balances or transparency for such an organization…certainly there’s reason to be concerned."
These issues could add to objections already raised by lawmakers and U.S. businesses. The American Bankers Association submitted a public comment criticizing the rule change in February, saying it "hands practical regulatory powers to non-governmental organizations" without verifying the "suitability of these organizations" to carry out the work. BP questioned the legality of the rule, saying it "effectively appoint[s] a third-party arbiter to determine which companies are eligible to be major contractors."
House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), who sent a letter to the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council in March warning that the proposal could have "detrimental consequences for our national security and mission readiness," is looking into holding hearings on the matter, sources told the Free Beacon.
The idea for SBTi first took shape in 2013 during a meeting between climate activists and researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based offices of the World Resources Institute, a well-established environmental nonprofit funded by many of the left’s top benefactors, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.
SBTi didn’t register as a stand-alone entity for eight years after its launch. Instead, it was staffed and co-managed by five activist groups: the New Venture Fund’s We Mean Business Coalition, the World Resources Institute, the Carbon Disclosure Project, the World Wildlife Fund, and the UN Global Compact.
Because of this arrangement, SBTi was not required to file public financial records disclosing its income, spending, salaries, and other information. The We Mean Business Coalition was also able to avoid filing such disclosures until 2021, when it spun off from the New Venture Fund and registered as a stand-alone nonprofit group.
Parker Thayer, a researcher at the Capital Research Center watchdog group, said this lack of transparency is common for projects associated with the New Venture Fund.
"The New Venture Fund is a dark money titan from the left that specializes in creating the appearance of broad public support" through unregistered front groups, said Thayer. "[They] allow the left to create the image that numerous organizations support their cause when in reality it’s all a one-man puppet show."
SBTi has also faced internal complaints. Baue said he was dropped from the technology advisory committee without explanation in 2020 after he expressed concerns that SBTi was using a weak methodology for setting emissions reduction targets. That method was created by one of SBTi’s parent groups, the World Wildlife Fund, which Baue said raised questions about "conflicts of interest and self-dealing."
"The effect is that [SBTi] monopolized the marketplace by removing any competition" from independent measurement standards, he said.
Baue added that SBTi’s validation service—in which it charges companies a fee to approve their emissions reduction targets and plans—also poses a conflict of interest, because it could give the group a financial incentive to weaken its standards in order to attract more paying clients.
"If you’re the standard-setter and you’re also making money from the validations there’s at least a temptation to water down your standards in order to continue to have a flow of validation revenue," said Baue.