To protect the environment, Trump should investigate Russian collusion

To protect the environment, Trump should investigate Russian collusion
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A hallmark of environmental protection in America has been the active role citizens play through special-interest environmental groups. Since the early days of the environmental movement, influential groups such as Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have played an integral role in identifying and advocating for environmental protection and conservation. By bringing legitimate environmental concerns to the public consciousness, these groups gained the trust and respect of the American people. 

This trust is threatened, however, by multiple allegations of Russian collusion with environmental groups. In a June, 2014 speech in Canada, former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonLate night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study 10 steps toward better presidential debating Continuity is (mostly) on the menu for government contracting in the next administration MORE said that Russians were funding “phony-environmental groups” to oppose fracking and pipeline construction projects. 


Clinton’s concern was not unique. A 2014 New York Times article reported on the experiences of a small-town mayor in Romania who faced widespread protests after it was revealed he was considering an offer from Chevron to explore his property for natural gas. The mayor blamed the protests on Russian government-owned gas company Gazprom, which denied funding the anti-fracking protests.


NATO’s Secretary General Anders Rasmussen has echoed the same concerns, noting the Russian government was using environmental organizations to help prevent independent oil and gas exploration in order to solidify dependence on imported Russian gas.  

Just this year, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology released a majority report that confirmed Russia used social media platforms to oppose the use of natural gas, limit research and development of fossil fuels, and generally influence U.S. energy policy. Perhaps most disconcerting are the allegations made by Texas Republicans Reps. Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Cheney asks DOJ to probe environmental groups | Kudlow: 'No sector worse hurt than energy' during pandemic | Trump pledges 'no politics' in Pebble Mine review Cheney asks DOJ to probe environmental groups  How effective are protests and riots for changing America? MORE and Randy WeberRandall (Randy) Keith WeberHouse rebuffs GOP lawmaker's effort to remove references to Democrats in Capitol Hillicon Valley: Judge's ruling creates fresh hurdle for TikTok | House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks | Biden campaign urges Facebook to remove Trump posts spreading 'falsehoods' House passes bills to secure energy sector against cyberattacks MORE, who claim that many of the most trusted environmental groups — including the Sierra Club and the NRDC — have received tens of millions from an offshore Russian shell company.

Few doubt Russia is motivated to oppose fracking operations outside of Russia. Oil and gas represent approximately 50 percent of Russian exports. Competition from the U.S. or from fracking operations in Europe is not in Russia’s interest. A loss of market share would also diminish Russia’s political influence in the region. 

Despite these credible, bipartisan concerns about Russian meddling in U.S. and world energy policy, there has been very little digging into this story. That’s concerning. Millions of Americans who support the works of well-known environmental groups deserve to know if the organizations have been compromised. The danger is clear.  Given the sparse reporting, the public is left to speculate as to which environmental groups have been tainted by Russian funding. This uncertainty could have a devastating effect on the ability of legitimate groups to continue to advocate for a cleaner environment.  

The Trump administration should take the lead and open an investigation into these allegations. Only then will we learn which environmental groups are serving as proxies for the Russians, and which groups are not. Those that aren’t compromised deserve to have their reputations cleared.  That Russia is seeking to protect its relative monopoly in Eastern Europe is to be expected, but the public trust is necessary for sensible environmental policy to take root. It’s time to clear the air.

Donald van der Vaart is a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation and the former secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. He is a member of the U.S. EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board. This piece does not reflect the views of the John Locke Foundation or the Scientific Advisory Board, nor is it written in his capacity at the foundation or as a board member.