Some environmental activists who pressure politicians to halt production of natural gas are acting as “agents of influence” on behalf of the Kremlin and Russian energy interests, according to a retired CIA officer’s analysis of the money trail.
“We cannot allow foreign interests to deliberately manipulate our energy industry,” Rep. @LamarSmithTX21 says.
As they lead the charge against two natural gas pipelines, activists allied with a statewide group called Virginia Organizing advance Russia’s geopolitical ambitions at the expense of U.S. energy independence, 29-year CIA veteran Kenneth L. Stiles told The Daily Signal.
Two of these local environmental groups “are, without a doubt, agents of influence to Moscow through [a] networking system of shell companies and foundations,” Stiles said.
Russia’s incentive in what some see as actual collusion with well-funded, liberal environmental groups in the United States isn’t difficult to understand, Stiles argues, since American natural gas development affects the profitability of Gazprom, a large Russian oil and gas company.
With the public comment period open for one of the Virginia pipeline projects, Mountain Valley, local activists’ relationship with Virginia Organizing Inc. and the covert support the larger group receives from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government deserve greater scrutiny, Stiles said.
“People must understand that this is not just a local issue,” he said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “Geopolitically, this is Putin’s Moscow attempting to thwart America’s efforts to gain energy independence and dominance and to help our allies get from underneath Putin’s energy boot.”
Virginia Organizing describes itself as a “nonpartisan, statewide grassroots organization dedicated to challenging injustice by empowering people in local communities to address issues that affect the quality of their lives.”
Preserve Montgomery County, based in Blacksburg, Virginia, was formed “to unite citizens” in opposition to “the intrusion” of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, according to the organization’s website, and to “work in cooperation with other regional groups to fight the pipelines and their assault on the environment.”
Under the heading “No Fracked Gas Pipelines,” a section of the website addresses environmental concerns about the process of hydraulic fracturing, widely known as fracking, to reach oil and natural gas.
Preserve Montgomery County calls on local residents to become “intervenors” with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to block the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Nellysford-based Friends of Nelson County, meanwhile, targets the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Stiles, 58, who joined Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in 2011 after leaving the CIA, said he sees an unsavory connection between anti-pipeline campaigns in his home state and top Russian officials.
He said the Kremlin has a vested interest in undermining a “natural gas revolution” in America that also could free Europe from its reliance on Russian energy.
Russian Money Behind Green Groups
As The Daily Signal previously reported, congressional investigators with the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology uncovered evidence that Russia is conducting what they call a “propaganda war against fossil fuels” by covertly funding U.S. environmental groups.
This covert funding, the investigators argue, is part of an elaborate scheme to turn American public opinion and public policy against fracking techniques that make it possible to extract natural gas.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the House committee’s chairman, and Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, chairman of its energy subcommittee, sent a letter June 29 to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking him to “conduct a full and complete investigation” into the money trail connecting Putin’s government with U.S. environmental activists accused of spreading “disinformation” about fracking and natural gas.
Russia and its partners in Bermuda, identified in the letter, could be in violation of federal statutes “pertaining to agents of foreign governments or those lobbying on behalf of domestic and foreign interests,” Smith and Weber wrote to Mnuchin.
The Russians “executed a political agenda with little or no paper trail,” the letter explains, by using a Bermuda-based shell company, Klein Ltd., “to funnel tens of millions of dollars” to a San Francisco-based nonprofit called the Sea Change Foundation that focuses on climate change.
The Sea Change Foundation then moves the money in the form of grants to other nonprofit environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.
The letter from the House committee cites a July 2014 report from the Republican staff of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that unpacks the Sea Change Foundation’s donations to other groups.
Republicans regained control of the Senate three months later, and with Donald Trump’s election as president, House Republicans now see a way to get traction on the issue.
“I have asked Secretary Mnuchin to track a pattern of international money flowing into the U.S., and the Treasury Department is well positioned to gather facts and review findings through the lens of U.S. laws,” Smith said in an email to The Daily Signal. “We cannot allow foreign interests to deliberately manipulate our energy industry, and the American people deserve to know the truth about the foreign money.”
The Treasury Department did not respond to The Daily Signal’s questions about the status of its reply to the House committee’s letter, and whether it would begin an investigation.
The Money Trail
One challenge for the Treasury Department in tracking the money trail is that Klein Ltd., the shell company in Bermuda that gives to the Sea Change Foundation, isn’t required to disclose the identity of its own donors or their countries of origin, Stiles said.
The Russian connection with Klein, and from there to Virginia, comes in the form of Bermuda-based law firm Wakefield Quin, which was instrumental in Klein’s formation in March 2011. The law firm shares the same address with Klein and 20 other companies, congressional investigators determined.
Klein contributed a total of $23 million to Sea Change by 2011, according to IRS Form 990 records cited in the House committee’s letter, almost half the contributions it received in that period. Sea Change in turn would give hundreds of thousands of dollars to Virginia Organizing.
Wakefield Quin’s top lawyers and administrators have held what the lawmakers’ letter to the treasury secretary describes as “directorship positions” with an investment group owned by Leonid Reiman, “a Russian minister of telecommunications and a longtime friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
Virginia Organizing, founded in 1995, figures prominently in the 2014 Senate committee staff report, which says it isn’t a genuine grassroots group because it is funded by foundations from outside the state, such as Sea Change, that donate millions to progressive causes.
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Source: Daily Signal