It was only a matter of time before Representative Lamar Smith found a new hobby.
After all, a person can only spend so much time as the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology attacking anything that even hints at confirming climate change or looking for yet another way to weaken the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Heck, even attempting to get a "Secret Science Reform Bill" slammed through Congress can only occupy an elected official for so much of the day.
But, luckily, Smith has cooked up another cause to keep himself busy. This time he's blaming the Russians.
That's right, the Republican congressman from San Antonio now officially believes that the Russian government has been funneling money to environmental groups in the United States in return for the efforts of those groups to get in the way of the U.S. oil industry.
Smith and Representative Randy Weber, another Republican on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, recently sent Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin a six-page letter on the topic. In the letter Smith and Weber ask Mnuchin 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.”
See, while Smith and the other House Republicans have continued to insist that the Russians did not muck around in the 2016 presidential election, they are entirely willing to entertain the notion that the Russians are involved in a dastardly scheme to make it more difficult for the United States to produce oil.
Specifically, Smith believes that the Russians have been intent on discrediting the practice of slant drilling and hydraulic fracturing that has been the motor behind an unanticipated renaissance of both Texas and U.S. oil production.
Smith states that Russia is doing this because the glut of natural gas brought into the world market by shale plays in Texas and across the United States made natural gas dirt-cheap. This has, in turn, resulted in Russia losing some of its share of the global market, according to Smith's letter.
The letter claims Russia has been sending environmental groups money through Bermuda-based shell companies. The environmental groups have then, Smith alleges, been using the money to push for restrictions on oil and gas drilling activities.
By way of proof, Smith cites reports in conservative publications like the Washington Free Beacon and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails (because apparently no Republican can resist trying to tie it all back to the emails released by Wikileaks).
The idea that Russians are attempting to meddle in the U.S. energy industry isn't entirely ludicrous. After all, it is believed Russian money was backing protesters opposed to fracking in Romania back in 2014, according to the The New York Times.
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But keep in mind that what Smith presents is far from actual proof. Plus, the letter Smith and Weber signed failed to note one crucial detail about the stories claiming the Russians have been attempting to influence energy policy by dumping money secretly into U.S. environmental organizations like the Sierra Club. Namely, that all of the stories about this big Russian plot to shut down fracking in the United States are based on research from the Environmental Policy Alliance. (The other EPA.)
While the name may sound fairly innocuous, the organization is actually a public relations firm with ties to the oil industry, i.e., a group that has its own reasons for wanting to cast doubt on any and all environmental reports, particularly any reports that find problems with fracking.
The Sierra Club, one of the groups name-checked in the allegations, fired back with a thorough denial of any of the claims. "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," Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club's legislative director, stated.
It would be nice if Smith took Pierce's advice, but based on recent history, the odds seem likely that we're going to be hearing about secret Russian anti-environment environmentalist supporters for the foreseeable future.