John Kerry's Climate Office Coordinated With Left-Wing Nonprofits Working To Shut Down Coal, Internal Docs Show

'Evidence continues to mount' showing Biden admin's coordination with eco groups, Oversight chairman James Comer tells the Free Beacon

Biden climate envoy John Kerry (Getty Images)
June 18, 2024

The State Department's lead climate office discussed shutting down coal power worldwide with environmental groups, namely the California-based Sierra Club among others, ahead of its decision to join an international anti-coal coalition, according to emails reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

The internal agency emails—obtained this month via information request by watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust (PPT)—are the latest evidence that the State Department's Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (SPEC), led by John Kerry until he departed early this year, discussed key policy issues, including actions related to coal power, with nonprofit interest groups.

And the emails come amid a sweeping congressional probe into the SPEC office's coordination with eco groups. That probe is being spearheaded by House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer (R., Ky.), who told the Free Beacon that his panel continues to review separate documents showing the Biden administration "caved to pressure by leftist climate groups" seeking to end construction of new coal plants and phase out all coal worldwide by 2040.

"Evidence continues to mount showing a sophisticated, targeted approach by radical environmental groups to influence the Biden Administration's domestic and foreign policy," said Comer.

"The Oversight Committee will continue to press the Biden Administration for information related to Envoy Kerry’s position and his office’s ability to bind the United States to agreements at the detriment of American consumers and businesses," he continued.

According to the emails obtained by PPT and shared with the Free Beacon, on April 15, 2021, Steve Herz, a senior attorney and international climate policy adviser at the Sierra Club, contacted then-SPEC adviser Jesse Young, inviting Kerry and other administration officials to attend the June 2021 "grassroots leadership climate summit" hosted by the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth.

Herz said the summit would focus on issues "the U.S. government needs to address internationally" including "shutting down coal."

Sierra Club senior attorney emails SPEC adviser Jesse Young an invitation for John Kerry to attend a private discussion with environmental groups.
Sierra Club senior attorney Steve Herz emails SPEC adviser Jesse Young an invitation for John Kerry to attend a private discussion with environmental groups.

Young, who is now the SPEC office's chief of staff, responded to Herz, saying that he "would love" if Kerry could attend the summit. Then, in a May 2021 email, Young asked other State Department officials to confirm whether Kerry could attend the event, noting the invite was brought up during a recent "NGO call" and adding that it "seems like a good idea to me."

Kerry and then-senior SPEC adviser Lauren Sanchez, who has since been hired as a climate adviser for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D., Calif.), ultimately attended the Sierra Club-Friends of the Earth summit, joining a session on June 3, 2021. While much of the event was broadcast online, that session was private.

"This private session of the Global Grassroots Leaders Climate Summit will provide an opportunity for participating grassroots leaders to have a dialogue with Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry and his team," a description of the session online states. "They will discuss ways the Biden administration can be constructive partners in global climate efforts and specific ways the administration can benefit their campaigns."

That description failed to detail the session's covered topics that were listed in Herz's original email to Young two months earlier.

In a separate email exchange from July 2021, Herz requested a meeting with SPEC officials to discuss "opportunities of limiting international coal finance." The top Sierra Club official sent the request to a group of SPEC officials whose names were redacted in the documents produced via FOIA request.

Herz emails unnamed SPEC officials, requesting a conversation about "limiting international coal finance."
Herz emails unnamed SPEC officials, requesting a conversation about "limiting international coal finance."

Sue Biniaz, who serves as the principal deputy special envoy for climate, said in an email to other officials that it "couldn’t hurt to hear their thoughts." An unnamed official then responded, suggesting that they loop the White House National Security Council into the conversation.

The SPEC office, Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth did not respond to requests for comment.

"Government of, by, and for the people demands transparency and accountability," PPT director Michael Chamberlain told the Free Beacon. "The actions of John Kerry’s secretive climate office are anathema to those qualities."

"And every new revelation seems to add to the body of evidence that Kerry’s office has been outsourcing its policymaking—policies that have a significant impact on our ability keep the lights on and the machines running in our homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses—to powerful but unaccountable special interest organizations," added Chamberlain.

In January, the House Oversight Committee released emails that, like the batch obtained this month by PPT, highlight the extensive coordination between the SPEC office and environmental nonprofit organizations.

Those emails showed that, on March 2, 2021, the State Department solicited and received guidance from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on the so-called Powering Past Coal Alliance, an international effort to reduce coal reliance. And they also revealed that, on April 7, 2021, the NRDC, along with the Sierra Club and three other eco groups, sent SPEC officials a memo outlining a "global coal phase-out agenda for the Biden administration."

NRDC's memo, obtained by the Free Beacon, made a series of recommendations to the SPEC office, including joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance, prioritizing coal phase-out policies in diplomatic engagements with China, Japan, and South Korea, and increasing financial incentives for other countries to transition away from coal by "greening" COVID-19 recovery plans.

"The Biden administration should make a global coal phase-out a top-tier foreign policy priority, and a critical issue in bilateral relations with all key countries funding and using coal," the memo stated.

The 2021 NRDC memo's top recomendation for the Biden administration was to join the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Kerry announced the U.S. would join the alliance in December 2023.
The 2021 NRDC memo's top recommendation for the Biden administration was to join the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Kerry announced the U.S. would join the alliance in December 2023.

Kerry, in one of his final actions as President Biden's climate envoy, announced during the United Nations' most recent climate summit in December that the United States would join the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Coal-fired power generated more than 16 percent of total U.S. electricity in 2023, more than wind and solar power combined, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In addition to probing the SPEC office's work with environmental groups, Comer has probed its climate negotiations with China and its broad role within the Biden administration.

While the office has been empowered with a multimillion-dollar budget, a large staff comprised of climate movement veterans, and a quasi-independent federal policymaking authority, it has notably been tight-lipped about its internal operations. For example, it has repeatedly withheld the identities, titles, roles, and pay of its personnel.

"The American people deserve to understand the SPEC office’s role in the Biden administration, how their tax dollars are being spent, and what closed-door deals this office is making with any climate group or country," Comer told the Free Beacon.