The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that U.S. environmental groups have received covert funding from China and Russia.
EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler made the request after Rep. Lance Gooden (R., Texas) alleged that left-wing environmental groups—including the Sea Change Foundation, Sunrise Movement, and Sierra Club—have functioned as conduits for "foreign influence, financial involvement, and election interference." Wheeler noted that it is not against the law for a nonprofit to take contributions from foreign entities but nonetheless asked the DOJ to look into whether the groups should register as foreign agents.
"Given heightened concerns that foreign countries, primarily China and Russia, are potentially funding U.S.-based ‘green' groups to undermine American energy independence and to help maintain the integrity of the EPA's decision-making, EPA will refer this matter to the DOJ [Foreign Agents Registration Act] Unit," Wheeler said. "The DOJ can then determine what appropriate steps to take, if any, including whether those entities should be registered as foreign agents."
Gooden's allegations follow calls from other Republican lawmakers to investigate the anonymous funding of green groups for potential foreign influence. In September, Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.) asked the DOJ to investigate whether Russia and China are working to infiltrate environmental groups as a way of influencing U.S. policy.
Erin Bridges, the fundraising director of the Sunrise Movement, told the Washington Free Beacon that such accusations were baseless, describing them as "another exhausted attempt from fossil fuel cronies to conjure up some vast conspiracy theory that's been debunked again and again."
But Republican lawmakers are most concerned about the Sea Change Foundation, which has utilized offshore entities to pump large sums into its coffers. Since its founding in 2006, the Sea Change Foundation has passed nearly $500 million to liberal environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Energy Foundation, U.S. Climate Action Network, and others. It has also received money from Klein Ltd., a Bermuda-based entity, which has led to concerns over its funding. A 2014 report from the Environmental Policy Alliance alleged that Klein has ties to Russian oligarchs. The nonprofit has denied the allegations.
"All funding to Klein (now Sea Change Foundation International) has been exclusively from philanthropic contributions by Bermuda-based family trusts of which I, my children, and family-related philanthropic organizations are the only beneficiaries," the group's director, Nathaniel Simons, said in a forwarded statement first issued in 2018. "Neither Klein nor Sea Change Foundation has ever solicited or accepted contributions from non-family related sources."
The Sierra Club did not respond to requests for comment. The DOJ also did not respond to an inquiry.