Democrats dig for Russian connection and uncover environmentalists

Democrats dig for Russian connection and uncover environmentalists
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Democrats and the media have been on a yearlong deep dig into Russian involvement into U.S. elections. But when you dig a hole you sometimes run across things you wish had remained buried — like the dirt pointing to Russian ties to the U.S. environmental movement.

Democrats hoped their digging would expose some kind of Russian connection to President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFlynn to campaign for Montana GOP Senate candidate Trump considering pardon for boxing legend after call from Sylvester Stallone Decline in EPA enforcement won't keep climate bill from coming MORE. That hasn’t happened.

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But as the investigations have progressed, there is a growing realization that Russians were trying to influence the political process and policy debates, including environmentalists’ efforts to limit or stop hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, an innovative crude oil and natural gas drilling process.

 

A January assessment from the Director of the Office of National Intelligence revealed: “RT America TV, a Kremlin-financed channel operated from within the United States … runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. This is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability.”

An important finding to be sure, but this is only “news” if you haven’t been paying attention.

Back in 2014 Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then-secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a former prime minister of Denmark, was publicly alleging that Russia was secretly funding the anti-fracking movement.

“I have met with allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernment organizations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas,” Rasmussen asserted.

According to the World Bank, oil and gas revenue accounts for about 40 percent of the Russian government’s revenues, which it uses to expand its influence and foment mischief and unrest around the world. 

Fracking has dramatically increased U.S. crude oil and natural gas production, which has pushed prices down. Lower energy prices, and especially for gasoline, have been great for consumers and the U.S. economy.

But low oil and gas prices have been terrible for Russia and the OPEC countries, especially Venezuela and Iran. So it’s easy to see why Russia might fund a covert campaign to undermine U.S. energy production.

While the anti-fracking stories on RT TV probably had little impact — because no one watches RT TV — Russian funding for various well-known environmental organizations is a different matter.

Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and Randy WeberRandall (Randy) Keith WeberHow much collateral damage will there be in the 2018 midterms? 25 House Republicans defy leadership in key spending bill vote Fierce battle erupts over releasing intelligence report MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the Energy Subcommittee, have also been investigating Russian involvement. 

They point out that last October, WikiLeaks released Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGeorge HW Bush wears 'book socks' to Barbara Bush's funeral to honor her passion for literacy Obamas, Clintons to attend funeral of Barbara Bush Hillary Clinton to fundraise in DC for public charter high school MORE emails, which included a private 2014 speech in which then-Secretary Clinton said the State Department was “up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians …”

I’m, uh, having a little trouble recalling Clinton drawing voters’ attention to that problem during the presidential campaign.

Smith and Weber recently sent Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin a letter outlining how money appears to be channeled from Russia through a Bermuda-based “shell company” known as Klein, Ltd., which doles out “tens of millions of dollars to a U.S. based … private foundation, the Sea Change Foundation.” 

The letter alleges, “Sea Change then passes the money originating in Russia to various … organizations such as the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, and others.” Those environmental groups then use the money to oppose fracking, the congressmen claim.

To be fair, environmental groups on the receiving end may not know the initial source of those funds, which is why Congress should investigate the financial chain, especially given recent allegations that the Clinton Foundation and the Democratic National Committee funded Russian efforts behind the now-discredited Steele dossier.

And that’s why Smith has asked Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet (i.e., Google) to turn over any information they might have on Russian-backed entities pushing anti-fracking advertising. 

We don’t know where this will all lead, but it appears that the green movement is much “redder” than some people thought — or were willing to reveal.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.