"What a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive ... ." so says the bard. Mr. Christie seemed quite upset at the revelation in my July 5 column ("Look behind the green door") that his own Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council might be acting as "agents of influence" or "manipulated sources" on behalf of the Russian government. That is the characterization that the CIA would use to describe those being unwittingly manipulated to act on behalf of a foreign power, lacking malice but also victims of their own naïveté.
Christie quoted extensively from the Congressional report I cited linking American environmental groups to Russian agents of influence attempting to disrupt the American energy industry and our politics at large. The report extensively details the many connections between U.S. "green groups" and social media posts opposing various aspects of our energy industry, but especially fracking of shale oil deposits, construction of oil/gas pipelines and terminals, and the expansion of U.S. crude production. Using ad hominem attacks, Christie implied the report is tainted because Republicans released it. But the FBI indictments announced on July 12 against a dozen Russian military intelligence officers alleging disruption of U.S. elections gives validation to the core issues of the March report detailing Russians sowing discord in American energy politics.
What galled Christie the most, I suppose, is that the report ties the Sierra Club Foundation to this activity with its receipt of as much as $16 million in Russian-generated funds via financial cut-outs—making tracing contributors difficult but not impossible. The Natural Resources Defense Council allegedly received $35 million, and the Russians spent at least another $95 million doing the same to disrupt European Union energy markets via igniting public opposition to fossil fuel development along with nuclear power.
I read Christie's article several times and, while he attempts to discredit the report and sources, he doesn't deny anywhere that the Sierra Club Foundation received millions of dollars from the Russian-backed organizations, specifically, the Sea Change Foundation. This organization, according to 29-year veteran CIA officer Ken Stiles, is linked to a Bahamas law firm that specializes in making confidential (legal) large transfers of funds without disclosing donors. The donors to Sea Change have been tracked back to the Internet Research Agency, which is based in St. Petersburg, Russia. This group has also been tentatively linked to Vladimir Putin, whose background as a colonel in the former Russian KGB in East Germany involved similar disinformation campaigns.
What's happening in our small county is likely but a microcosm of global Russian disinformation operations against oil and gas development. Russia desperately needs high oil and gas prices to fund a massive strategic nuclear modernization that has been underway for a decade. Funding this build-up requires oil/gas prices at the optimum of $110 per barrel but they'll settle for $80. The American oil and gas revolution, due in large part to fracking, has scuttled a major part of Russian strategic planning as they lack the resources to continue their military build-up and foreign adventurism, at least as long as we continue to develop oil and natural gas.
The shale revolution has increased American production to 12 million barrels per day as of 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and by 2019, we will surpass Russia as the largest oil producer in the world.
Fracking has also allowed natural gas production to eliminate much of the CO2 emissions that concern so many as gas replaced coal in American electricity generation. America reduced its carbon emissions more than any other nation in 2017, even as they increased in virtually every other nation. If you are really concerned about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, I would think this might give you pause before you vote to shut local production down. Ironically, California emissions were also down last year but not because of fossil fuel restrictions. According to Julie Cart, an environmental reporter for CALmatters, our drop in emissions was due to increased use of hydroelectric generated power thanks to heavier rainfall and snow last year, not fossil fuel restrictions.
The economic impact data I used in my last column includes losses by vendors; the Nipomo refinery is serviced by more than 1,000 local vendors, and the industry cumulatively generates around $60 million in economic activity. The 200 to 300 refinery employees earn "head-of-household" wages, usually starting around $80,000 per year.
I think the burden of proof remains with the Sierra Club Foundation and other anti-fossil fuel groups to prove that none of their funding is coming from foreign sources, directly or indirectly. Most of the Measure G volunteers are sincere "not-in-my-backyard" protesters; however, they are being led by powerful, well-funded groups. The Center for Biological Diversity, which has a $14 million budget and 159 staffers, is trying to destroy energy production in SLO and Santa Barbara counties. Think about that and who will most benefit. Δ
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor firstname.lastname@example.org.