Dec 16, 2022 - Energy & Environment

GOP plans "collusion" probe into climate groups

Illustration of a mad emoji face on a magnifying glass, which is examining Europe and Asia on a globe

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

House Republicans want to launch investigations into a baseless claim that China and Russia unduly influence U.S. climate activism.

Why it matters: Republicans are using this claim to seek donation information from climate groups and could potentially use subpoenas.

Driving the news: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last week said that if elected House speaker, he’d support investigations into “environmental NGOs’ collusion with Russia and China to hurt American energy.”

  • GOP offices have sent many climate groups oversight letters in the past year suggesting they’re part of foreign influence campaigns, including multiple citing a debunked claim that one foundation may have been used as a conduit for Russian money.
  • The letters asked for donor information and details about communications with other governments, including China.

What they’re saying: Asked if he’ll subpoena environmental groups, incoming House Natural Resources chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) said: “If I need to, I will.”

  • "[I]f there’s evidence the Chinese government is funding their actions, we have to go after them. I don’t care what kind of group they are," he said.
  • Westerman said the subject is “not a really high priority” right now compared to energy legislation, and “we’ve got to gather the data” first.
  • But Westerman deeply cares about this. He's helped lead these efforts in Congress, including a 2018 effort to probe whether some activists' talks with China violated a foreign agents registration law.
  • “House Republicans have legitimate oversight questions regarding environmentalist NGOs and their interactions with foreign actors, and will use investigative authority to get answers for the American people," said McCarthy spokesperson Mark Bednar.

What we're hearing: Environmental groups vehemently deny the GOP’s accusations. Still, sources at some targeted groups told Axios they are taking the potential legal threat seriously.

Reality check: Some of the GOP letters to activists used a debunked claim about a charity called the Sea Change Foundation being a pass-through for Russia financing climate groups.

  • There’s no evidence of Russian money to the foundation, and the family behind it has repeatedly said it’s funded by their own money.

Between the lines: Experts do worry that China and Russia may gain leverage over the U.S. as it ditches fossil fuels because of where global supply chains exist today.

  • Unlike fossil fuels, the United States controls relatively few resources used to make electric vehicle batteries.
  • China has a stranglehold on global supplies for many of these materials and dominates the semiconductor industry. Russia, a gas hub, also produces lots of nickel and low-carbon aluminum.

Yes, but: There’s no proof to date that either China or Russia is funding U.S. activism to quit fossil fuels.

  • In 2014, the head of NATO claimed that Russians boosted an anti-fracking campaign in Europe as an influence operation, but did not mention the United States.

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