While allegations of the Donald Trump campaign colluding with Russians to alter the presidential election outcome remain unproven at best, a clear money trail and U.S. intelligence reports demonstrate Russia’s active campaign of funding U.S. environmental groups.
On March 1, U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), released a report on “Russia’s Social Media Meddling in U.S. Energy Markets.” The report details Russia’s motives in interfering with U.S. energy markets, influencing domestic energy policy, and manipulation of Americans via social media propaganda.
“This report reveals that Russian agents created and spread propaganda on U.S. social media platforms in an obvious attempt to influence the U.S. energy market,” Smith said in a press release. “Russia benefits from stirring up controversy about U.S. energy production. U.S. energy exports to European countries are increasing, which means they will have less reason to rely upon Russia for their energy needs. This, in turn, will reduce Russia’s influence on Europe to Russia’s detriment and Europe’s benefit. That’s why Russian agents attempted to manipulate Americans’ opinions about pipelines, fossil fuels, fracking and climate change. The American people deserve to know if what they see on social media is the creation of a foreign power seeking to undermine our domestic energy policy.”
As to Russian motivations, that much is obvious. As the U.S. gains in natural gas production, Russia loses the ability to exert political and economic influence in parts of Europe.
The U.S. is now the top producer of natural gas in the world. In 2016, U.S. natural gas imports set a record low even though consumption has increased. In three of the first five months of 2017, U.S. natural gas exports were greater than imports — the growing trend points to the U.S. becoming a net exporter. America’s natural gas revolution has both domestic and international ramifications.
During a joint appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Trump’s energy and interior secretaries drove this point home. While American consumers benefit from lower energy bills at home, U.S. policymakers are in position to be more assertive abroad because of increased natural gas production.
Domestically, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the fracking boom has created 2.7 million jobs with an estimated additional 3.5 million projected by 2035.
Internationally, Europe may finally be freed from dependence on Russia and its Gazprom oil company. Policy disputes between Europe and Russia often result in economic bullying tactics from Putin’s government, which has issued periodic threats to close pipelines supplying oil and natural gas. Those days may be over. With its liquified natural gas (LNG) exports, the U.S. could displace Moscow in Western and Eastern Europe. Lithuania and Poland, for example, recently constructed LNG import terminals, providing more independence from Russia’s natural gas. Croatia now has EU backing to build terminals as well.
Democratic activists quick to dismiss the Russian connection with U.S. environmentalists should know that even Hillary Clinton, a critic of both the pipeline and, at least rhetorically, fracking, charged Russia with funding the anti-fracking and anti-pipeline campaigns.
“We [the State Department and the U.S.] were up against Russia pushing oligarchs and others to buy media,” Clinton remarked at a 2014 speech quoted in the report. “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.”
Take Lamar Smith’s word on it. Or take Hillary Clinton’s. Russia’s use of the worn but winning tactic of using Western dupes to do its bidding on environmental questions remains one rare area where the pair agree.