by Thomas Catanacci
Green groups' ties to China will be 'top priority' for House Republicans after midterms, GOP spokesperson says
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a major U.S. green group that has influenced Biden administration policymaking, has deep ties to the Chinese government.
The NRDC, a non-profit organization based in New York City with total assets exceeding $450 million, has worked on climate issues extensively in China since the mid-1990s and several of its top officials have worked for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or government-sponsored institutions.
The NRDC maintains a close working relationship with President Biden's administration. The NRDC's former president, Gina McCarthy, served as Biden's climate czar up from January 2021 until earlier this month. Current president, Manish Bapna, has attended at least two White House meetings, visitor logs reviewed by Fox News Digital show.
The NRDC regularly communicates with Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry's office on policy issues, according to internal State Department emails obtained by the watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust and shared with Fox News Digital.
On its website, the NRDC highlights its collaboration with a "wide range of Chinese and international partners" to boost green policies and "fortify" environmental regulations in the country.
The NRDC, though, rarely condemns the communist government in China despite the nation's massive world-leading carbon footprint and its commitment to fossil fuel energy. China accounts for about 27% of total global emissions — nearly tripling the total in the U.S., the world's second-largest emitter, according to Rhodium Group — and continues to approve and construct a large amount of coal power plants.
"China has made a serious commitment to turning its cities into healthier places to live and currently leads the world in renewable energy installation and electric vehicle penetration," the NRDC website states.
While the group has a sizable international program that extends into Canada, India and Latin America, its sole office outside the U.S. is located in Beijing, China's capital city. The NRDC's Chinese language website states the office is registered under the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau and supervised by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration of China.
The NRDC's most recent tax filings showed that the Chinese office is staffed with 35 employees and has a $4.2 million annual budget. By comparison, the group's international work in North America, South America, South Asia and the Middle East has 11 staffers and a $1.1 million annual budget.
"The NRDC is an independent public-interest group working to protect the environment and public health," Amanda Maxwell, the managing director of NRDC’s international program, told Fox News Digital in a statement. "The central environmental challenges of our time - threats to our oceans and wildlife, toxic chemicals in our food and air, climate change and more - are global problems that demand a global fix."
"As the world's most populous country, China plays an important role in the search for sustainable solutions," she continued. "That’s what our work is all about. In China, and elsewhere, we’re working to create a cleaner, more sustainable world - for everyone."
Maxwell said the NRDC has never received any funding directly or indirectly from organizations affiliated with the CCP. The Internal Revenue Service generally does not require nonprofit organizations to publicly disclose donor information.
She added that non-profit organizations like the NRDC are required in China to register with a government sponsor to coordinate in-country activities, explaining why the group's activities are supervised by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, China's equivalent of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
"We advise our sponsor, the Chinese National Forestry and Grassland Administration, of our work plan for in-country activities involving any Chinese entity, government or private," Maxwell told Fox News Digital. "And we provide the agency with an annual report assessing the outcome of our work, which centers on providing independent analysis and policy recommendations to the government of China."
"In China, as elsewhere, the NRDC operates in accordance with the law."
Stil, numerous key members of NRDC's Beijing office have previously worked for China's communist government or left the group for a government position.
For example, Jieqing Zhang, the director of NRDC's China program, was the former deputy director-general of China's International Cooperation Department under the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. Kai Duan, an NRDC senior project manager, also worked for a subagency within the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
JingJing Qian, a current senior strategic adviser for the group's China program, formerly worked at China’s Ministry of Science and Technology. Another senior adviser, Yinying Chen, previously worked in "universities, government agencies, state-owned enterprises and private companies," her NRDC profile says.
Hui Huang, a project manager for NRDC's climate and energy project in China, in the past worked for the China Datang Corporation, a state-owned electricity generation firm.
And, Zhiming Pan, the director of NRDC's city project, was previously an official at the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.
"We strive, in all of our offices, to build teams centered around the most knowledgeable and effective staff available," Maxwell said. "In approving our advocacy positions, in China and the United States, we rely on our U.S.-based executive leadership, and no one else."
"And there’s no question that all major emitters of greenhouse gases - including the United States, the European Union, China, India, Russia and others - must work to cut the carbon pollution that’s driving the climate crisis," she continued.
The NRDC also has regularly published blog posts commending China for its climate actions.
"China’s leaders are sending a clear signal that China’s shift from fossil fuels to clean energy is accelerating and that 'new energy' should be the basis for China’s future energy system, rather than fossil fuels," NRDC senior adviser Alvin Lin wrote in 2021.
Another 2021 blog post, from other NRDC experts, claimed China's agreement to a United Nations treaty was "a major global climate win that should also lend a boost of confidence to broader climate talks heating up this year."
Andrew Wetzler, NRDC's chief program officer, wrote in 2018 that the "most exciting work in conservation" was taking place in China.
"China is doing a lot to address its problems at home and to help fight climate change — starting with the wind turbines I saw from my train window as I traveled from Shanghai to Beijing," former NRDC President Rhea Suh wrote in 2016.
The group issued a press release this past April boasting that it had received a thank-you note from the Beijing 2022 Olympic Organizing Committee, which was led by Beijing CCP Secretary Cai Qi, regarding its climate consultation prior to the event.
"We have received a thank-you letter from the Organizing Committee recently," the NRDC wrote in the statement. "We will continue to work hard with key stakeholders to develop and implement concrete measures to ensure that China meets its climate ambitions."
NRDC's press releases, statements and blog posts about Chinese climate policy often represent a stark contrast with the group's rhetoric and actions in the U.S. where it regularly has criticized a perceived lack of government action and filed environmental lawsuits blocking fossil fuel development.
The organization, which was founded in the 1970s as "America's ﬁrst litigation-focused nonproﬁt dedicated to making dirty industries clean up their pollution," has filed dozens of legal challenges pushing far-left green measures.
Through its legal efforts, the NRDC has opposed domestic oil and gas drilling programs, coal plants, the Keystone XL pipeline and critical mineral mining projects.
The group bragged in December 2019 after it had filed its 100th lawsuit against the Trump administration.
"No administration is above the law — and NRDC will continue to prove that," the group said at the time.
The group has continued its anti-fossil fuel litigation efforts since President Biden took office 20 months ago and has demonstrated a large influence on the administration's climate agenda.
"For the enviros, it's really all about power," H. Sterling Burnett, the director of the Heartland Institute's Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, told Fox News Digital in an interview. "It's not about greenhouse gas emissions, is it? Well, if it was, they'd be talking about China all the time, non-stop. They're not."
"Why is NRDC not attacking China?" he continued. "First off, they know that China can just kick them out. Secondly, it's hard to bite the hand that feeds you. If you're being paid not to criticize somebody, then you don't need to criticize them."
The NRDC's ties to China and the organization's apparent double standard over U.S. climate policies has also drawn the ire of Republican lawmakers.
"The ties environmental groups, like NRDC, have to China is something we are continuing to keep close tabs on," a spokesperson for House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., told Fox News Digital in a statement. "We’ve done a lot of oversight this Congress and it will continue to be a top priority for Ranking Member Westerman if we take back the House."
In 2018, Westerman and former Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who was the chairman of the Natural Resources Committee at the time, wrote to NRDC leadership, requesting more information on its ties to China. The pair suggested the group's apparent affiliation with China could require it to register as a foreign agent.
"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," Bishop and Westerman wrote in the June 5, 2018, letter.
The letter — which could preview future actions Westerman may take if Republicans win back a majority in the November midterm election — suggested the NRDC may be in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). FARA defines a foreign agent as "a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal."
"The NRDC’s involvement in China spans two decades and represents a significant investment of time and resources," the lawmakers' letter stated. "The NRDC’s ability to work in China is dependent on the goodwill of the Chinese Government."
"When engaging on environmental issues concerning China, the NRDC appears to practice self-censorship, issue selection bias, and generally refrains from criticizing Chinese officials," they continued.
The State Department and White House didn't respond to requests for comment.
Thomas Catanacci is a politics writer for Fox News Digital.