Paris – June 21 : Vladimir Putin during a work visit at Matignon, june 21, 2011 in Paris, France (Shutterstock/Frederic Legrand – COMEO)
House lawmakers have added another twist to the ongoing congressional Russia investigation by asking the Treasury Department to look into allegations Russia secretly funneled money to environmental groups opposed to oil and gas drilling.
Top Republicans want the Trump administration to investigate a Bermuda-based shell company that funneled money to a prominent environmental non-profit that’s given millions to anti-fracking activists. Media reports suggest the Bermuda shell company is tied to Russian oligarchs.
Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin asking him to investigate “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.”
“If you connect the dots, it is clear that Russia is funding U.S. environmental groups in an effort to suppress our domestic oil and gas industry, specifically hydraulic fracking,” Republican Texas Rep. Lamar Smith said in a statement.
Letter signatories Smith and Texas Rep. Randy Weber point to media reports of the U.S.-based environmental group, the Sea Change Foundation, taking $23 million from a Bermuda-based shell company with ties to Russian oligarchs in 2010 and 2011.
That same year, Sea Change gave millions to U.S.-based environmentalists, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. All of those groups oppose hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“They have established an elaborate scheme that funnels money through shell companies in Bermuda,” said Smith, who chairs the science committee. “This scheme may violate federal law and certainly distorts the U.S. energy market.”
“This scheme potentially violates federal statutes pertaining to agents of foreign governments or those lobbying on behalf of domestic and foreign interests,” Smith said. “The U.S. Treasury Department is well positioned to track the international money flowing into the U.S.”
Republicans and some energy experts have long suspected Russia supported anti-fossil fuel activists in the U.S. and Europe.
European officials have accused Russia of backing environmental protesters at potential fracking sites in Romania and Bulgaria to keep them from developing their own energy resources.
Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in 2014 that Russia “engaged actively with… environmental organisations working against shale gas… to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russian oligarchs were propping up “phony environmental groups” opposed to pipelines and fracking.
“We were even up against phony environmental groups, and I’m a big environmentalist, but these were funded by the Russians to stand against any effort, oh that pipeline, that fracking, that whatever will be a problem for you, and a lot of the money supporting that message was coming from Russia,” Clinton said in a June 2014 speech.
U.S. intelligence officials confirmed in a declassified report released in early 2017 the state-owned media outlet Russia Today, or RT, ran “anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s report claimed the campaign “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.”