House GOP demands investigation into alleged Russian influence in US environmental groups

"Unlike the Russia hoax, Putin's malign influence on our energy sector is real and deserves further investigation," Jim Banks said.


As many Americans are seeking an increase in domestic energy output amid skyrocketing prices across the country, Republicans are calling on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to investigate if Russian money has financed American environmental groups that advocate against US fossil fuels.

The head of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) has urged Yellen to launch an investigation into whether Russia has a secret funding scheme backing US green groups that have been a barrier to America's bid for energy independence.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) spearheaded a letter Friday addressed to Yellen that cites a Washington Free Beacon report from 2015 that suggested that California-based Sea Change Foundation may be "a conduit for Russian oil interests in funneling money" to groups such as the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club, and the Center for American Progress, according to a Fox News exclusive Saturday.

"Russia spent millions promoting anti-energy policies and politicians in the U.S.," Banks declared in a press statement sent to Fox News Digital. "Now, thanks to Biden's war on domestic energy, U.S. oil production has dropped 10%, pushing up prices and enriching and emboldening Putin before he invaded Ukraine."

Banks said that unlike the "Russia hoax," Russian President Vladimir Putin's "malign influence on our energy sector is real and deserves further investigation."

As the world "descends into another global conflict," Banks said in the latter it is "imperative that the Unites States remains free from foreign manipulation."

The list of requests outlined in the letter asks the Treasury Department to partner with the Department of Justice in establishing a select committee to probe illicit Russian influence operations if Russian manipulation is confirmed.

Fox News reported that the Treasury Department did not respond to email requests for comment on whether it would investigate the GOP's concerns regarding Russian interference in American anti-energy funding.

The letter from Banks mirrors a similar effort from Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who are demanding select environmental groups disclose ties to a non-governmental organization, which GOP members claim are being used by Putin to impact America's energy production efforts.

House Republicans on the committee have pointed to the LCV, the NRDC, and the Sierra Club, which they've alleged have connections with the San Francisco-headquartered NGO environmental organization Sea Change Foundation. Sea Change is known as a major left-of-center foundation whose grant-making focuses on supporting environmentalist think tanks and advocacy groups.

In a March 10 letter sent to the aforementioned trio, congressional Republicans inquired about the funding the groups have received from the Sea Change Foundation since 2006 and prompted a disclosure of whether the groups "are aware of concerns that Sea Change may be a conduit for Russian funding."

Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress said the allegations have been "thoroughly debunked," pointing to a 2018 Inside Philanthropy article where Sea Change founders Nat Simons and Laura Baxter-Simons are quoted insisting they've received no outside funding and the foundation's over $500 million in grants for climate and clean energy initiatives were based on family wealth.

"I wish to clarify that press reports speculating that Klein has received funding from outside sources are factually incorrect and have no basis. Neither Klein nor Sea Change Foundation has ever solicited or accepted contributions from non-family related sources," Simons said in a statement include in the 2018 piece.

In a statement to Fox News Digital, the Center for American Progress called the recent moves by the GOP arriving amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict "a disgusting disinformation campaign by unpatriotic Republican extremists who have been actively cheering on Putin throughout the Trump years" and who are "now masking that disgrace with lies that have been thoroughly debunked."

LCV, NRDC, and Sierra Club have also pushed back against the GOP's claims in previous statements to Fox News Digital, with the NRDC calling the Republican Party's allegations "false" and "rooted in a smear campaign orchestrated nearly a decade ago by fossil fuel interests and a right-wing think tank."

"We receive no funding from the governments of Russia or China," said NRDC director of strategic engagement Bob Deans, calling the GOP's allegations "a distraction" then and now. "We answer to our independent leadership, and we don't do the bidding of any government – foreign or otherwise – in our work to advocate for commonsense environmental protections in the public interest."

LCV said the "story is completely false and has been put to rest for years."

"We have no connections to Russia, or China, and have been an effective advocate for environmental protection for over 50 years," the American environmental advocacy group stated. "These false and poorly researched allegations are rooted in a nearly 10-year-old right-wing think tank and fossil fuel industry-funded smear campaign that gets revived every few years to serve as a distraction."

Sierra Club's legislative director Melinda Pierce labeled the collusion allegation a "false conspiracy theory" that's "invented by the same deceitful front groups paid to do polluters' and big tobacco's dirty work, has been repeatedly debunked over its nearly 10-year existence." Pierce maintained that the Sierra Club has "no connections to Russia or China, and proudly fights for clean energy and climate action because this is what our planet requires, our families deserve, and what the overwhelming majority of Americans across the country demand."

As the Russian government seeks to expand its political influence as an energy superpower, Moscow has gone to drastic lengths to ensure Europe's reliance on Russian oil and gas. The dependence has made it difficult for both the US and its European allies to counter Russia's military aggression in the region.

Among critics blasting President Joe Biden's energy policies at home, the Republican Study Committee, the largest group of conservatives in the House, claims that the commander-in-chief has stifled domestic oil and gas production and led to the U.S. buying Russian oil to fund Putin's war against Ukraine.

Earlier in the previous week, Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports, firing back at opponents accusing the Biden administration of holding back domestic energy production. "I'm sick of this stuff," Biden told a Democratic retreat in Philadelphia in reference to questions of inflation. "The American people think the reason for inflation is the government spending more money. Simply not true."

Yellen said in a Thursday interview that Americans will likely experience "another year in which 12-month inflation numbers remain very uncomfortably high."

She also said she believes the war in Ukraine is "exacerbating inflation" as the situation would likely play a part in keeping prices on the upward trend.


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