The letter said that the N.R.D.C. appears to “practice self-censorship, issue selection bias, and generally refrains from criticizing Chinese officials.”
“The N.R.D.C.’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,” the letter added.
It said the N.R.D.C. had sued the United States Navy over sonar testing and its potential harm to marine life, but had not raised similar criticisms with the Chinese military. The environmental group has never condemned China’s extensive work building artificial islands in the South China Sea and praised reforms to its domestic fisheries months after a 2016 Greenpeace study that said Chinese commercial fishing was a threat to fish stocks around the world, the congressmen wrote.
The Republican lawmakers’ letter faced criticism that they were ignoring the difficulties of working in China. Some said their effort echoed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting in the 1950s, and was a ploy to undermine legitimate criticism of American environmental policy.
“As a former senior attorney working in this program, I can tell you that this is patently ridiculous,” Alex Wang, an assistant law professor at U.C.L.A. who was formerly an N.R.D.C. senior attorney in Beijing, wrote on Twitter. “N.R.D.C. has been trying to hold a Republican administration accountable for weakening environmental measures.”
Bob Deans, the environmental group’s director of strategic engagement, said its work to protect the environment was a promotion of American goals and values.
“As the most populous country on Earth, China has much to do with the kind of world the next generation will inherit, in our country and around the world,” he said in a statement. “We’re proud of our work, in China and elsewhere, helping to create a more sustainable future for everyone.”
N.R.D.C. officials “look forward to discussing that work with Chairman Bishop and the committee,” he added, referring to the Utah lawmaker.