Democrats Invoke Russiagate to Advance Bill Lobbied for by Big Oil
Two bills that would allow the United States to expand its fossil fuel infrastructure in the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries have advanced to the the Senate—and Democrats backing them have invoked “Russiagate” to push them through.
One of those bills, the European Energy Security and Diversification Act passed in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on December 11 and calls for $1 billion to go toward pushing energy projects in the EU. Immediately preceding that, another related bill called the Energy Security Cooperation with Allied Partners in Europe Act also passed through the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and co-author of the European Energy Security and Diversification Act, praised his bill’s passage through committee.
“This is a piece of legislation that seeks to redress what has been an asymmetry in the way in which we try to combat Russia’s attempts to curry favor in the region with its oil and gas,” Murphy, a frequent participant in the cable news circuit as a commentator on the “Russiagate” issue, said in a press release. “And I think that this, frankly, is the best way ultimately to hurt Putin where it matters. If we are able to help make countries truly energy independent of Russia’s energy largesse, then it effectuates so many U.S. national security goals in the region.”
But the Real News’ review of lobbying disclosure forms by some of those lobbying for the bill, show that they have business interests in Russia.
The European Energy Security and Diversification Act has enjoyed the lobbying support of the American Petroleum Institute (API), the influence peddling voice of the oil and gas industry. API member companies include BP, Chevron, Shell Oil and ExxonMobil—companies with deep oil and gas ties in Russia. BP owns a 19.75% share of Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil production giant. And BP’s CEO, Bob Dudley, sits on Rosneft’s Board of Directors. Exxon is a frequent joint venture partner with Rosneft. Both Chevron and Shell Oil also have extensive operations across the oil and gas supply chain in Russia, with Shell acting as a financier of the Nordstream 2 pipeline, the subject of recent U.S. sanctions against Russia.
Despite these deep ties to Russia by those lobbying for the bill, House Democrats and Republicans stirred up Russiagate fears while they expressed their support for the legislation.
“Europe imports nearly 40% of its natural gas from Russia,” U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney III (R-FL) said on the House floor before the body voted on the legislation. “Some EU countries source as much as 100% of their gas from Moscow, which has weaponized its energy dominance in the region to coerce, intimidate and influence the political decisions of countries that depend on it for their energy.”
“We saw again last weekend with the summary of the Mueller report coming forward, just underscoring once again, the attack that was made on our country by Russia,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA). “Russia is seeking…to create a wedge with the greatest asset we have. That asset is the coalition we hae with our European allies…One of the ways Russia is continuing to break up this western coalition and cause great damage is not just attacks they had in the U.S., but also wielding energy as a weapon to break up this great coalition we have.”
The bill calls for the United States’ assistance if it is a “natural gas infrastructure, such as interconnectors, storage facilities, liquefied natural gas import facilities” or if it centers around “the improvement, rehabilitation, or construction of natural gas, coal, or other electricity generation facilities to increase the efficiency and reliability of electricity production.”
That assistance could include “using the diplomatic and political influence and expertise of the Department of State” to “resolve any inpendements” that may exist in getting an energy project open for business. Put another way, the U.S. government could use influence-peddling techniques to push a fossil fuels agenda throughout the EU.
The bill further aims to prioritize linking energy systems of multiple countries together in the region and must be on the European Commission list as top priority projects for EU countries. The European Commission recently listed 55 different gas projects on its priority list, which received criticism from climate advocates.
Two environmental groups, Food & Water Watch and Friends of the Earth, lobbied in opposition to the bill. Kate DeAngelis, a senior international policy analyst for Friends of the Earth, told The Real News that the group was attacked for its efforts.
“It was incredibly difficult to lobby on the bill because of the widespread support from the Dems,” said DeAngelis. “Most of the offices that were supportive or leaning toward supporting didn’t respond to our request for meetings. We were even accused of being pro-Russia. We explained that we were not pro-Russia, but that we are anti-fossil fuels.”
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) had also attempted to amend the words “including fossil fuel” out of the legislation during committee deliberations on the legislation, but the amendment failed to pass. He further attempted to pass an amendment requiring that the energy the U.S. promotes within EU countries is “non-fossil fuel based” and “truly renewable.” It also failed to get the votes needed for passage.
Another bill, the Energy Security Cooperation with Allied Partners in Europe Act, has also passed through the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. It calls for the U.S. government “to promote energy security in Europe by working with the European Union” and “to develop liberalized energy markets that provide diversified energy sources, suppliers, and routes.”
“Russia continues to use its energy resources as a weapon to intimidate, influence and coerce our allies. Freeing Europe from Russian energy dependence will strengthen both our allies and our NATO alliance,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the author of the bill, said in a press release after the bill passed through the Committee on Foreign Relations. “This bill gives us an opportunity to supply Europe with an alternative to Russian gas and increase Europe’s energy security.”
Barrasso took $10,000 in campaign contributions from Chevron, $7,500 from API and $5,000 from ExxonMobil during his successful 2018 re-election campaign cycle.
Despite these tough on Russia sentiments, the same companies with a large business footprint in Russia—ExxonMobil, Chevron and API—all lobbied for the bill. ExxonMobil, beyond its Russia operations and long-standing ties to the country, is also in the midst of building an LNG export terminal called Golden Pass LNG in Texas, a joint venture with Qatar Petroleum.
Friends of the Earth’s DeAngelis said that at the end of the day, money talks in Congress—and in Russia—despite the anti-Russia rhetoric.
“Exxon, BP, Chevron and API’s involvement in this bill just demonstrate how fossil fuel interests have a hold on much of the Congress,” she said. “They mask their demands in different ways, but their goal is always to increase their profits at the expense of the environment and communities around the world.”