The GOP wants to investigate environmental groups for ‘collusion’ against US energy
Axios reported on Friday that House Republicans will launch an investigation into environmental NGOs based on a right-wing rumor that foreign powers, including China and Russia, are using nonprofit environmental groups to influence US policy. That unsubstantiated rumor has been pushed for years by a public relations firm employed by the fossil fuel industry to run artificial turf campaigns that attack members of the environmental movement.
In a blog post published earlier this month, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he would use his leadership in Congress to investigate, among other things, “environmental NGO collusion with Russia and China to harm American Energy.” The idea of environmental NGOs colluding with foreign governments has also been a particular focus of House Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman, who launched a probe at the non-profit organization World Resources Institute in 2018.
“Chinese officials continually work to control environmental information and news in an effort to counter the country’s status as the world’s biggest polluter,” read a press release about the investigation. “The Committee is examining WRI’s role in assisting efforts to manage China’s perception of pollution control and its international position on environmental issues in ways that may be detrimental to the United States.”
Westerman told Axios that other energy issues are higher on his agenda, but if “there is evidence that the Chinese government is financing their actions, we have to go after them. I don’t care what kind of group they are.”
McCarthy and Westerman’s interest in this issue is based on a series of letters sent by Republican politicians to various environmental groups asking about alleged foreign influence.
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“We write to you with significant concerns that American progressive advocacy groups may be pushing the US government’s economic and environmental policies to the benefit of the Chinese Communist Party,” the statement read. letter sent to Sunrise Movement CEO Varshini Prakash last year. Other lettersent in March to the League of Conservation Voters, it alleges that “Russian President Vladimir Putin funds certain environmental non-governmental organizations around the world to create fear among the use of information by other nations. [fracking] to ensure dependence on Russian gas.”
These accusations and investigations do not come out of the blue. In March, the Washington Post debunked the claims about Russian connections to environmental groups, linking the original rumor to a group called Environmental Policy Alliance, which began promoting it in 2015. While the Environmental Policy Alliance may sound like the name of a legitimate nonprofit, it is actually run by a public relations firm known as The Berman Group, which has a long history of providing astroturfing services to corporations, including foundation front groups that run campaigns to criticize government agencies, non-profit organizations, unions, and other entities. (The company’s strategies are so well known in Washington that, in 2011, 60 Minutes named founder Richard Berman “Dr. Evil.”)
The Berman Group has significant ties to the fossil fuel industry and has run campaigns using its front groups to attack anti-fracking groups and make (really wild) videos. attacking the EPA and regulations for less air pollution. In 2014, Berman told fossil fuel executives at an industry meeting that they should employ dirty tactics when fighting environmental groups.
“Think of this as a war without end,” said Berman, according to the New York Times, who obtained a recording of the meeting. “And you have to budget for it.” In the same speech, Berman’s colleague described how the company had investigated the personal lives of leaders of groups like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council in an attempt to find dirt to publicize.
“People always ask me one question all the time: ‘How do I know I won’t be found out as a supporter of what you’re doing?'” Berman said at the 2014 meeting. profit that they are protected from having to disclose to donors. There is complete anonymity. People don’t know who supports us.”
Now, it looks like all that money spent spreading rumors about environmental groups is finally paying off. It’s nice to know that taxpayer dollars are helping to fund an investigation into a claim. composed of a “Dr Mal.”