The recent uptick in anti-Dominion Energy articles and news reports has baffled most outsiders. Case in point, the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) and its cozy relationship with the Virginia Mercury — a pay-to-play news outlet funded by anti-energy groups specifically targeting American energy projects such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
Such news shocked most of the Virginia chattering class even if they haven’t quite found a way to articulate the problem. VPAP continues to run stories from the pay-to-play outlet while categorically refusing to run articles from this publication, claiming that TRS is a partisan outlet (you can read our Mission Statement and Code of Ethics which mimic Axios and NPR’s models here and judge for yourself).
Yet amazingly enough, this shift in editorial policy regarding non-print news publications came just after a $10,000 contribution from anti-Dominion outlet Clean Virginia, an organizations funded by Michael Bills — head of a $1.1 billion hedge fund whose contributors are non-disclosed by the SEC. Bills also happens to be the primary funder of Clean Virginia Fund, a state PAC fueled by two $50,000 gifts in 2017 and after having been criticized for putting a $20,000 bounty on any delegate or state senator who takes money from Dominion Energy.
Correlation does not prove causality, so they say… but readers can make up their own minds as to how the winds blow.
This is but one example as to how the Virginia media climate has suddenly changed over the last 18 months, with environmentalist groups and social media bots swarming around the ACP and MVP projects in favor of “clean energy” while Russian freighters carrying natural gas are suddenly pouring in to Boston Harbor — all to the benefit of Russian energy companies.
In that light, we are going to try to take a swing at what the heck is going on.
In June 2017, the House Space, Science and Technology Committee (SST) published a nine-page memorandum outlining how Russian interests were funding and fueling a series of environmentalist non-profit organizations in the United States with the explicit goal of driving up energy prices by opposing American developments. Mentioned in this memorandum were two organizations specifically: the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), both of whom were major donors to the effort to elect Ralph Northam as governor in November 2017.
It was weeks afterwards that former CIA case officer and Virginia Tech professor Ken Stiles sounded the alarms that these anti-energy groups were indeed being funded and fueled by with Russian resources. From Tommy Lopez over at WSLS-10:
The idea may sound far-fetched. Stiles alleges Russia sends money to shell companies in the Caribbean. American foundations receive money from them. Then, organizations take in donations from those groups.
“I think people have to start asking questions. What’s the bigger picture?” Stiles said. “[Russian officials] understand the long game, and they’re willing to sink millions of dollars knowing it will be years to have a payoff.”
In March 2018, House SST followed up with a 21-page staff report outlining how Russian operatives leverage social media in an effort to influence American energy markets — specifically new projects that cheapen the cost of energy. One of the key points in the introduction:
Subsequent to the Committee’s initial request, media revelations indicated that Russian operatives, “intent on exploiting existing divisions and social movements in the United States,” had in fact sought to influence U.S. energy markets by exploiting American social media platforms. According to the media report, Russian agents exploited Instagram by “shar[ing] images related to Native American social and political issues—including the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.” Moreover, many of the Russian-linked accounts targeted “highly visible tension points” in America, including “protests against pipelines.”
This points back to a rather interesting exchange via Twitter over a patently false claim by Clean Virginia that Dominion Energy overcharges customers (fun fact: it does not). The article was shared by former Delegate Albert Pollard (disclosure: I’m a fan) and responded to by yours truly. Here’s the screenshot:
Note the Twitter handles that “liked” the rebuttal from Clean Virginia that their resources were “public” on VPAP — which remember, Clean Virginia sponsors and whom VPAP lists only one donor.
Of the six “likes” on Twitter? Three of them came from “Native American” accounts (one simply called me a bunch of names and blocked me… c’est la vie).
What is interesting here is that this is the very same pattern that the Russian Internet Research Agency uses for disinformation campaigns, as detailed by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian social media “troll farms” this week.
These are the very same accounts used to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the TransAmerica Pipeline, and Keystone XL among others.
The Wall Street Journal’s report on these findings was that Russian meddling has a purely transactional goal: (1) to increase the price of American energy in order to (2) increase the price energy globally, so that (3) the Russian Federation can increase its revenues.
The trick? Find what the Soviets used to call “useful idiots” to play the game. Sometimes this involves people willing to trade their patriotism for cash, but more often than not, it involves convincing the actor that their cause is noble, desirable, and surrounded by enemies.
Evidence of collusion between environmentalist groups and dark Russian money should come as no surprise to members of the radical Antifa left, if for no other reason than the abortive campaign of Green Party nominee Jill Stein was placed under investigation for similar reasons:
Burr confirms SSCI is investigating Jill Stein’s campaign, saying there are TWO campaigns the committee has just started looking at.
I asked what he’s looking for from Stein’s campaign.
“Collusion with the Russians,” he said.
— Emma Loop (@LoopEmma) December 18, 2017
When the Virginian-Pilot wrote about how these same Antifa activists that were active in South Dakota were also bringing their tactics to terrorize members of the Virginia Water Control Board, there was a great deal of consternation… but it fits into the general modus operandi of these disruptive Russian-backed organizations. To wit:
Problem is, Green Antifa exists and folks — including law enforcement — are taking notice in their activities and their collaborators. This publication has written about the phenomenon time and time and time and time again.
So perhaps now is the time to focus on Michael Bills, the dark money funder for Clean Virginia whose $1.1 billion hedge fund is a potential source for the orchestration against Dominion Energy.
Certainly he hails from the same community as former Representative Tom Perriello, who famously kicked off the anti-Dominion campaign in Februrary 2017 as a wedge between himself and now-Governor Ralph Northam. Certainly it is no mere co-incidence that Virginia Mercury — funded by a non-profit whose donors are not disclosed — is funded by the Hopewell Fund, an organization that finances to the tune of six-figures per annum a series of pro-environmentalist and anti-energy “pay to play” news outlets in states with a major port of call. From in inestimable Jim Bacon over at Bacon’s Rebellion when evidence of collusion between VPAP and the Virginia Mercury became evident:
The Hopewell Fund website does not say where its money comes from. Neither does its 2015 990 form. While the IRS filing did state that the fund received $6.9 million in “contributions and grants,” it did not identify its benefactors. The public has no way of knowing whether Hopewell is functioning as a truly independent organization or is a channel for funneling black money from other sources that prefer to remain unidentified.
Yet we know that VPAP warmly accepted contributions from Clean Virginia at about the same time it invented its new policy to accept articles from Virginia Mercury but exclude all others. Thus VPAP’s bizarre partisan turn in recent months reflects its partisan lean of recent years.
But it isn’t just this “Red Orchestra” between groups like Clean Virginia, VPAP, Virginia Mercury and these environmentalist “troll farms” that should bother folks. After all, they have the right to free speech like any other group (though they should be more honest about their leanings). Rather, it is the fact that they are taking square aim at Dominion Energy while refusing to say in whose behest this orchestra of fake news is truly acting.
Take for instance the most recent Washington Post article repeating the claim from Clean Virginia that Dominion Energy is overcharging its customers. Is that true?
Not in the slightest. In fact, the Virginia Progressive Legislative Alert Network (VAPLAN) offered the following critique of these Red Orchestra groups in an article entitled “Getting The Story Straight on Dominion Rates and Bills” which was crossposted to the progressive flagship Blue Virginia:
So, finally, returning to the bills. Taking into account our (fairly low) rates and our (very high) consumption, how bad are our bills? This is a measure of the effect of all the other factors that Dominion or whichever utility are allowed to add into our bills. Not so bad, it turns out—a typical state with the same rates and consumption would be expected to have bills actually about 2% higher per year, or $46 per year. Which doesn’t mean Dominion isn’t sticking us for things that we don’t want to and probably shouldn’t have to pay for—it’s just that the same thing happens in most other states too.
The facts for me are this: we aren’t paying unfair, exorbitantly high rates or bills compared to the rest of the country. But what we’re getting for the money, in terms of what Virginia contributes to global climate change is the real problem. In my opinion, bouncing back and forth between the message that Dominion is ripping consumers off, and the message that Dominion must be made to take aggressive steps to move away from fossil fuels and towards renewables and greater energy efficiency isn’t as productive as if we stick to the latter message.
Here’s the additional kicker folks. In November 2018, three natural gas tankers arrived in Boston from Russia, with three more arriving this month, all in order to prevent a replay of 2017 where Massachusetts literally ran out of natural gas and had to rely on Russian imports. Yet as the UK Economist reminds us, just 15 of these tankers create as much nitrogen and sulphur pollution as all of the world’s cars put together. All of them.
…and this is supposed to be the alternative to American natural gas production?
The bottom line is that US production of natural gas isn’t just good for the American economy, it’s good for the environment. Not only is it a better choice than importing Russian energy, it is also better for American national security.
If there is a question of money in politics and Russian influence, one might choose to start looking at the orchestra of anti-energy and so-called “environmentalist” groups playing on the concerns of those who want to see investment in green energy without the baggage that “Green Antifa” brings to the table. Certainly billionaires like Michael Bills can afford the increased energy costs, but one seriously doubts that working class families can do likewise.
As for the panoply of organizations that are willingly taking money or turning a blind eye to such collusion? Anathema sit… but they should at least have the integrity to demand of themselves the honesty and transparency the command from others. Either way, the orchestration against Dominion Energy is precisely that — and more direct questions about Clean Virginia’s financing, their funders, their targets of influence, and precisely who benefits from their policies should be raised.
More to the point, as Dominion begins transitioning from fossil fuels to a balance of clean energy projects, one has to ask whether a scenario akin to what happened in Massachusetts — where green energy projects failed the grid and Russian energy had to be imported to meet the gap — is an endgame that some in Virginia are attempting to replicate, to the benefit of firms such as Rosneft.
This isn’t about the environment or the pipeline, or even how Michael Bills spends his free time. Rather, it is about Russian rubles and how they are spent influencing the media to those either too greedy not to refuse or too blind to see the play. Thus to paraphrase William Wilberforce, one may choose to look away… but one can never again say that one did not know.