U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith is on a mission to uncover what he calls "Russia's propaganda war against fossil fuels." The Republican congressman whose district includes parts of San Antonio, the Hill Country and Austin, said as much in a recent letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Smith tells the Texas Standard that the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which he chairs, is calling for an investigation into the possibility that Russia secretly funneled money to environmental groups in the U.S. in order to fund their opposition to fracking, and to destabilize the domestic oil and gas industry.
Fracking is big business in Texas and has transformed oil and gas production in the U.S. Smith argues Russia's plan is to discredit the U.S. fossil fuel industry in order to protect its own share of the international market.
“[Russia] worries that if the United States starts producing energy, that will be a competitor or rival to Russia,” he says.
Smith alleges that tens of millions of dollars went to U.S. environmental groups through a shell company in Bermuda, naming the Sierra Club as one of the beneficiaries. But Smith's claims have not been substantiated and his letter to Secretary Mnuchin merely tries to make the case for possible ties between Russia and those groups.
“We’ve asked the Treasury department to investigate because we cannot get access to the mail transfers — that’s out of our jurisdiction,” he says.
Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce rebuffed the allegations, calling them “false,” “smears” and “a witch hunt,” in an interview with KUT News.
Whether or not a Russian plot to "hack" U.S. oil and gas has occurred, the U.S. is still a top oil producer.
Smith did not provide specific examples, or evidence for his assertions. He contends that environmental groups, financially backed by Russia, have been a driving force in the anti-fracking movement.
“The energy industry seems to take hits all the time from various environmental groups. …If they are getting their money to conduct those kinds of activities, whether they be demonstrations or criticisms or mailings or advertising, clearly Russia could be having an impact,” Smith says.
When it comes to interference in the 2016 presidential election, Smith’s mistrust of Russia is less vehement. He defends the notion that, despite widely accepted evidence of Russian attempts to influence the election, the meddling didn't sway actual votes.
“I’ve heard the accusations, I’ve heard the assertions. I haven’t seen any hard evidence,” he says.
Written by Caroline Covington.