Overnight Energy: Exxon sues feds over $2M fine | Deputy Interior pick advances | Oil concerns hold up Russia sanctions push

Overnight Energy: Exxon sues feds over $2M fine | Deputy Interior pick advances | Oil concerns hold up Russia sanctions push
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EXXON VERSUS TREASURY: The Treasury Department fined ExxonMobil Corp. $2 million on Thursday for what it called a violation of sanctions imposed in 2014 on Russia following its incursion into Crimea.

According to an enforcement filing from Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Exxon in 2014 signed "eight legal documents related to oil and gas projects in Russia" with Igor Sechin, the president of Rosneft, a Moscow-owned oil company. Sechin was the subject of U.S. sanctions on Russia following its incursion into Crimea.

But Exxon is challenging the fine, saying previous government statements about the Russia sanctions implied they would be able to work with Rosneft, just not Sechin's personal business.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the company argued OFAC "seeks to retroactively enforce a new interpretation of an executive order that is inconsistent with the explicit and unambiguous guidance from the White House and Treasury issued before the relevant conduct and still publicly available today."

The alleged sanctions violations date back to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's time as Exxon's CEO. Tillerson has recused himself from State Department decisions involving his former company.

A $2 million fine is the maximum civil penalty for the violations, according to Treasury. But it's a pittance for Exxon, whose profits were $7.8 billion in 2016.

Read more here.


In other sanctions news: American oil and natural gas companies are pushing for changes to a massive expansion of economic sanctions on Russia, warning lawmakers that the new regulations would harm them, too.

House leaders are negotiating several fixes to a bill expanding economic penalties on Russia and Iran, which includes new limits on the extent to which American and Russian oil and gas companies can interact.

The companies say the new sanctions are too expensive and would hurt their ability to work at drilling sites around the world in instances in which Russian firms are present, as well.

Lawmakers from leadership on down say they're open to tweaking the package to accommodate the industry's concerns.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill's 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.) said last week that lawmakers were considering fixing the bill "to [make] sure that we don't actually inadvertently help Russian oligarchs and oil firms."

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who is helping craft the House bill, said, "Unfortunately, the Senate version of the bill would give Russians the opportunity to weaponize these sanctions against American businesses."

He added, "I believe we need to thoroughly look at this and make necessary changes to protect American job creators."

Read more here.


INTERIOR NO.2 PICK ADVANCES: The Senate on Thursday advanced David Bernhardt's nomination to be deputy secretary of the Interior Department.

Senators voted 56-39 to end debate on Bernhardt's nomination, setting up a final confirmation vote next week.

Many Democrats continue to object to Bernhardt, with Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocrats request info on 'repeated environmental concerns' at Ohio pipeline Booker to stop accepting donations from corporate PACs Gillibrand vows to refuse donations from corporate PACs MORE (D-Wash.) raising concerns about his lobbying history in a floor speech Thursday.

"If he's confirmed, he will oversee the same companies at the Department of Interior," Cantwell, the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, said.

"That is, he will be making decisions on the same things he lobbied for. At the agency, he'll be on the other side of the table, and after a short time, be able to make decisions in these areas."

Even so, no Republican voted against the procedural motion on Thursday, and seven Democrats voted to advance Bernhardt's nomination.

"His personal background and public and private professional experiences prove that he is a strong voice for the West, and extremely well-qualified for the nomination to be deputy secretary," Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe siren of Baton Rouge Senate confirms John Demers to head DOJ national security division Senate rejects bipartisan measure as immigration votes begin MORE (R-Colo.) said.

Read more here.


SENATE ENERGY AND WATER FUNDING MOVES FORWARD: The Senate Appropriations Committee cleared its $38.4 billion energy and water spending bill Thursday, moving it toward potential final passage on the Senate floor.

The 30-1 vote rejected numerous proposals by President Trump that would have slashed programs that have bipartisan support. The $38.4 billion total passed by the committee is $4 billion more than Trump's budget proposal.

The bill would fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy at $330 million, a record high funding level for an agency that Trump had proposed eliminating completely.

It also would fund the Energy Department's energy efficiency and renewable energy programs at $1.94 billion — $1.2 billion above Trump's budget proposal.

The lone "no" vote came from Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.). He objected to the bill including no funds to complete the Mixed-Oxide Fuel facility in South Carolina, with money instead going to shut down construction.

Graham pleaded with his colleagues to reverse course, saying the arguments that it is too expensive to complete are wrong.

Read more here.


GORE SEES CLIMATE BRIGHT SPOT FROM TRUMP: Former Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreJoe Lieberman: We’re well beyond partisanship, our national government has lost civility Trump doesn't start a trade war, just fires a warning shot across the bow Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE is finding one bright spot in President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement: an explosion of pro-climate activism.

Citing Newton's Third Law — every action has an equal and opposite reaction — Gore said he is emboldened by the defense he's seen of the climate ever since Trump's controversial decision to pull the U.S. out of the accord.

"What we are seeing in the United States of America today is the biggest upsurge of activism in favor of the climate that we have ever experienced. And it's in reaction to what President Trump has said," Gore said during a taping of a SiriusXM/Variety Magazine town hall interview.

"And we are seeing the same thing around the world — the other countries have doubled down on their commitment," Gore continued.

Read more here.



State officials have cleared the way for Aliso Canyon, the site of a massive methane leak, to reopen, the Los Angeles Times reports.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Thursday that he would oppose any attempt to allow offshore drilling off his state's coast, the Raleigh News & Observer reports.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the markets should be allowed to decide whether or not to build a new coal-fired power plant without government restrictions, The Guardian reports.



Check out Thursday's stories …

-Dem to seek investigation into Interior staff reassignments

-Realtors endorse House flood insurance extension

-Senate advances controversial Trump Interior nominee

-Gore: Trump prompting 'biggest upsurge' of climate activism ever

-Senate panel rejects Trump funding cuts on Energy Department programs

-Feds fine Exxon $2M for violating Russia sanctions while Tillerson was CEO

-White House details plan to roll back environmental regs

-Trump picks climate change doubter for USDA science job

-Oil concerns hold up Russia sanctions push


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