Two senior Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee have opened a probe into the Natural Resources Defense Council's connections to the Chinese government, indicating that the environmental group must register as a foreign agent because of its work to influence U.S. policy on behalf of Beijing.
In a letter sent Tuesday to NRDC President Rhea Suh, Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R., Utah) and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Bruce Westerman (R., Ark.) ordered the organization to turn over any documents related to its dealings with China.
The congressmen said the NRDC "appears to practice self-censorship, issue selection bias, and generally refrains from criticizing Chinese officials" when dealing with environmental issues that involve Beijing, while taking an "adversarial approach" to the United States.
They cited attempts by the NRDC to stop or curb U.S. naval exercises in the Pacific through several lawsuits that have accused the Navy of harming marine life with its anti-submarine warfare drills and use of long-range sonar. Meanwhile, the lawmakers say NRDC has been silent on Beijing's island building in the South China Sea.
"It appears there's a double standard there, so one of the things that we want to find out is why they want to create one standard for the U.S. defense forces and U.S. industries and another standard for the Chinese," Westerman told the Washington Free Beacon. "It gets back to a pay-to-play scenario—are they really looking out for environmental issues, or are they just trying to establish a foothold and are they willing to do what ever they can to keep that foothold?"
The lawmakers said the group might be in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires people or organizations to disclose to the Justice Department when they lobby in the United States on behalf of foreign governments.
"The Committee is concerned about the NRDC'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," the lawmakers wrote. "The NRDC's relationship with China has many of the criteria identified by U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement as putting an entity at risk of being influenced or coerced by foreign interests."
The letter cites a Free Beacon report on a classified CIA document detailing China's far-reaching foreign influence operations campaign in the United States, which imparts financial incentives as leverage to permeate American institutions. The FBI and Justice Department have raised similar concerns.
The NRDC defended its operations in China, the world's No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases, as a necessary step to protect Americans "against dangerous pollution."
"As the most populous country on Earth, China has much to do with the kind of world the next generation will inherit, in our country and around the world," the group said in a statement.
Bishop and Westerman said the probe is part of a broader effort to hinder foreign interference into U.S. energy and environmental policy. NRDC has until June 12 to respond to their letter.