Top House committee probes John Kerry’s coordination with eco groups pushing coal power shutdown

FIRST ON FOX: House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., is probing the State Department over its apparent coordination with environmental groups pushing to shutter global coal power.

In a letter sent Friday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Comer revealed that his committee obtained emails between Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s office and environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) showing extensive communication about plans to oppose coal power. Officials specifically discussed joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), a group the U.S. formally joined in December.

“To meet our goal of 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, we need to phase out unabated coal, and we urge the world to join us in doing so, while working to grow good-paying clean energy jobs,” Kerry said in a statement on Dec. 2 from the COP28 United Nations climate summit in Dubai.

“Together with the Powering Past Coal Alliance, we will be working to accelerate unabated coal phase-out across the world, building stronger economies and more resilient communities,” he added. “The first step is to stop making the problem worse: stop building new unabated coal power plants.”

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Comer expressed concerns in his letter Friday that Kerry’s ultimate decision to join the PPCA was heavily influenced by nongovernmental organizations that may, in turn, be coordinating with foreign actors. Notably, the NRDC has significant operations and investment in China which the group says is aimed at assisting efforts to decarbonize the nation’s economy.

Comer also noted that coal-fired power plants continue to generate a large share of the nation’s total electricity. In 2022, coal accounted for 20% of total U.S. electricity generation, second only to natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration.

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“Documents produced to the Committee reveal that the State Department sought and received feedback from leftist environmental groups on the [PPCA] and enabled those groups to influence U.S. foreign policy,” Comer wrote to Blinken. “These documents raise significant concerns that confidential information related to U.S. foreign policy, energy policy, and national security policy, have been shared with these groups, including in off-the-record meetings with Envoy John Kerry.”

“The PPCA announcement was the latest example of Envoy Kerry and the Biden Administration taking actions under the guise of climate advocacy that undermine our economic health and threaten foreign policy priorities while avoiding congressional scrutiny,” the Oversight chairman continued.

For example, Comer pointed to a March 2021 exchange in which State Department officials “solicited and received guidance” from the NRDC about the PPCA. One official wrote to NRDC leaders referencing an off-the-record briefing held earlier that morning and requesting more information about global efforts to phase out coal production.

In response, NRDC international analyst Han Chen connected the State Department with another eco group, E3G, and lauded PPCA for its work driving countries to “announce earlier coal plant closures through the process of qualifying to join the PPCA.”

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One month later, in April 2021, the NRDC, E3G, Sierra Club, Solutions for Our Climate, and World Resources Institute authored a memo emailed to State Department officials highlighting their support for the U.S. to join the PPCA. They said joining the alliance would support President Biden’s goal to decarbonize the U.S. power grid by 2035.

“These exchanges raise concerns as to what information Envoy Kerry and the SPEC office are providing to organizations like the NRDC in exchange for this information,” Comer’s letter to Blinken continued.

“The Committee is concerned that U.S. government officials providing similar nonpublic information to such groups could enable them to provide it to foreign governments for efforts undermining U.S. national and energy security,” he wrote.

Comer then requested a series of documents and communications related to the State Department’s decision to join the PPCA. He asked for the information to be submitted to his committee by Jan. 19 and further requested a staff-level briefing on the topic.

The State Department, NRDC and PPCA didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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In one of his first actions leading the Oversight Committee, Comer opened a probe in February into Kerry’s office over its negotiations with China. And in May, Comer again promised “intense scrutiny” of Kerry’s China climate talks.

The probe announced Friday is part of Comer’s broader oversight into Kerry’s office and actions representing the U.S. in climate negotiations on the world stage.

Shortly after taking office in 2021, Biden appointed Kerry to be the U.S. SPEC, a position that hadn’t previously existed, didn’t require Senate approval, and gives him a spot on the president’s cabinet and National Security Council. The SPEC office is housed at the State Department and has an estimated $13.9 million annual budget with approval for 45 personnel.

Since assuming the role, Kerry has traveled worldwide, attending high-profile climate summits and diplomatic engagements in an effort to push a global transition from fossil fuels to green energy alternatives.

Despite the high-level role leading the Biden administration’s global climate strategy, Kerry’s office has been tight-lipped about its internal operations and staff members, sparking criticism from Republicans, including Comer, who have demanded transparency from his office.

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