Republicans launch probe of EPA’s relationship with NRDC

Source: Elana Schor, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Republicans in the House and Senate today began a formal probe of U.S. EPA’s communications with the Natural Resources Defense Council on the Obama administration’s proposed emissions regulations for power plants as well as restrictions on a prospective copper and gold mine in southwestern Alaska.

The inquiries made this afternoon by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and the Senate Environment and Public Works’ top Republican, David Vitter of Louisiana, expand upon a July report from Vitter aides that alleged large-scale collusion between EPA and a “Billionaires’ Club” of environmentalist donors seeking to push administration policy leftward (E&E Daily, July 31).

Issa, Vitter and four GOP colleagues are “alarmed that EPA pushed a rule that was drafted behind closed doors by powerful Washington lawyers and lobbyists at the NRDC,” they wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. The Republicans sought copies of “all documents and communications” between her agency and the conservation group concerning the power plant emissions rule and the proposed Pebble mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.

In a version of the letter sent to NRDC’s soon-to-retire president, Frances Beinecke, the Republicans noted that one of three top NRDC employees credited by the New York Times with exerting significant influence over the administration’s climate rules for power plants has since left the group to join a nonprofit affiliated with billionaire Tom Steyer’s “hyperpartisan NextGen Action.” Steyer’s largely self-funded NextGen Climate political action committee is injecting millions of dollars into Senate races in a bid to make opponents of federal action on greenhouse gas emissions pay for their stance at the ballot box this fall.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia, asked about the GOP investigation, cited a July blog post from Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the agency’s air office, that sought to debunk the Times’ depiction of a power plant rule closely shaped by NRDC influence. “If anyone deserves credit for giving us ideas about how to approach the problem, it’s the states and communities on the ground that are already cutting pollution through the approaches we’re calling for in the proposal — cleaner, more efficient energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Purchia said via email.

An NRDC spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment this afternoon.

Click here to read the GOP letter to McCarthy.