GOPs Charge Environmental Lobby Getting 'Unprecedented Access' to EPA Officials

WASHINGTON – Republicans in both the House and Senate are opening inquiries into what they maintain is the improper influence the Natural Resources Defense Council has on the Environmental Protection Agency policies.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, maintain the NRDC played a dominant role in developing proposed regulations that will limit carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.

Issa and Vitter are seeking documents to determine the extent of the NRDC’s influence and whether the New York-based environmental group and the agency engaged in inappropriate collusion.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Issa and the Republicans on the Senate panel asserted that the NRDC had “unprecedented access to high-level EPA officials,” which “allowed it to influence EPA policy decisions and achieve its own private agenda.”

“Such collusive activities provide the NRDC, and their financial backers, with an inappropriate opportunity to wield the broad powers of the executive branch,” the letter said. “The fact that an ideological and partisan group drafted a rule that places a tremendous cost on everyday Americans through increased electricity prices is harmful and outrageous.”

The collusion “must cease immediately,” the lawmakers said.

Ed Chen, federal communications director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, dismissed the inquiry, saying it comes from climate change deniers who are uninterested in addressing the issue.

“Sen. Vitter, Rep. Issa and their colleagues are acting as if fighting for public health were an un-American activity,” Chen said. “Democratic and Republican presidents dating back to Dwight Eisenhower have worked to curb pollution and protect our natural resources. It is tragic that in 2014, Sen. Vitter and his colleagues fail to understand that Americans want the air they breathe and the water they drink to be clean.”

Congressional Republicans have been engaged in a running battle with the EPA for years over the agency’s efforts to battle global climate change by regulating emissions. The NRDC has been pegged as perhaps the primary lobbying group involved in fighting for tighter restrictions.

The scuffling culminated in June when the EPA, for the first time, introduced regulations seeking to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants in an effort to address climate change and concerns about the nation’s health. The proposed new rules create a national framework to set state-specific goals to cut carbon pollution per megawatt hour of electricity generated and authorizes the states to determine how to best meet those goals.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest carbon producers in the U.S., accounting for about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed rules followed on the heels of even tighter regulations issued regarding emissions from power plants that are not yet on line.

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee staged their initial public attack on the Natural Resources Defense Council during a hearing on July 23 when Vitter asserted that the proposed carbon emissions rule was “fundamentally similar” to proposals issued by the NRDC.