House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith thinks that the Russian government is funding environmental groups in return for their activities to hinder U.S. oil and gas production.
A six-page letter sent by Smith and another Republican lawmaker on June 29, asks Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to launch an investigation into “what appears to be a concerted effort by foreign entities to funnel millions of dollars through various non-profit entities to influence the U.S. energy market.” The letter was revealed in a Friday press release from the Science Committee.
The Russians’ goal, Smith and Rep. Randy Weber of Texas wrote, is to prop up their domestic oil and gas industry by stymying the hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, for oil and gas resources in the U.S.
The natural gas boom in the U.S. has driven prices down and diminished Russia’s role in the global energy market. The Trump administration is moving quickly to shelve regulations on oil and gas producers that could interfere with their efforts to take advantage of natural resources, regardless of the environmental and public health consequences.
The administration is also moving to increase U.S. oil and gas exports, which would compete with Russian exports to Europe in particular.
The letter alleges that the Russian government has been funneling money through Bermuda-based shell companies to environmental groups. Those groups are fighting for restrictions to oil and gas exploration activities.
The letter cites news reports in conservative publications, including this story in the Washington Free Beacon, and points to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails released by Wikileaks, among other sources, as evidence of Russia’s interest in bankrolling environmental groups in the U.S. However, the Free Beacon story, along with several others, were based on research done by a PR front group, known as the Environmental Policy Alliance, with a record of ties to the energy industry.
This raises the question of whether Smith is using the alleged Russian activities as cover to go after environmental groups, who are no friend of his.
The Sierra Club, which is one of the groups named in the letter as receiving Russian funding, pushed back strongly against the allegations.
“It is pathetic that Congressional Republicans are making absurd and false smears dreamed up by deceitful front groups doing the dirty work for big polluters and big tobacco,” said Melinda Pierce, the group’s legislative director.
“If Congressional Republicans are so concerned about Russian influence, they should start seriously investigating that country’s interference in our election, not attacking long-standing environmental organizations,” she said in a statement.
“The Sierra Club’s staff, donors, and our 3 million members and supporters have been fighting for clean energy and climate action to protect the health of our communities for decades, because it is what our planet requires and what our families deserve. That’s not just key to our organization’s historic mission, it’s what huge majorities of Americans across the country support.”
Since his chairmanship began in 2013, Rep. Smith has turned the Science panel, which was one of the last bastions of bipartisanship in Congress, into a committee that regularly plays host to climate deniers and critics of the science research conducted at federal agencies. In particular, Smith has been a harsh critic of the Environmental Protection Agency and climate research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).