The company’s effort could be helped by outgoing CEO Rex Tillerson, who, if confirmed as secretary of state, would be a key adviser on the decision, Isaac Arnsdorf and Elana Schor wrote in the article titled "ExxonMobil helped defeat Russia sanctions bill" published on Sunday, December 18.
Read alsoRex Tillerson to retire as CEO of Exxon Mobil CorporationThe bill, known as the STAND for Ukraine Act, would have converted into law for five years President Barack Obama's measures punishing Russia for annexing Crimea, making it more difficult for Trump to roll them back. The Senate left town on Monday, December 12, without acting on the bill, making it easier for Trump to end the sanctions with a stroke of the pen.
Read alsoThe New York Times: Obama bans drilling in parts of the Atlantic, the ArcticThe sanctions forced Exxon to step back from a drilling project in Russia's Arctic, a loss that the company valued in a regulatory filing at as much as $1 billion. Exxon also lobbied the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against previous bills punishing Russia for the invasion of Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the company's efforts on Capitol Hill.
Exxon's intervention against the sanctions bill could add to concerns among senators — including Republicans John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio — that Tillerson is too chummy with Vladimir Putin. Exxon's business partner in Russia is state-owned Rosneft, led by Igor Sechin, a close Putin ally who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in 2014. Tillerson and Putin personally concluded the joint venture in 2011.
In a statement, Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said the company "sought and provided information" about its activities in Russia and Ukraine and disclosed its lobbying as required. "Our contacts were reported per congressional requirements, but were mainly in the first half of 2014," when the Russia sanctions were first imposed, he added.
Exxon reportedly raised concerns that the implementation of European sanctions against Russia, developed in concert with the U.S. restrictions, would give the company's overseas competitors an unfair advantage.
Russia sanctions have been a key point of disagreement between Exxon and U.S. government policy in recent years. Exxon and Rosneft collaborate on 10 joint ventures in the Russian Arctic, the Black Sea and western Siberia. Tillerson has said the company would go "back to work" if sanctions are lifted in 2017.
On Russia sanctions, Exxon sometimes works through the U.S.-Russia Business Council, where Tillerson used to be a board member. In May, the group brought a handful of people who work for American companies in Russia, including Caterpillar and JPMorgan, to discuss topics including sanctions with House Democrats.
Randi Levinas, the U.S.-Russia Business Council's lobbyist, said the House Foreign Affairs Committee Democratic staff invited the group to weigh in on the sanctions bill. The group also lobbied the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she said.
Read alsoPotential U.S. Secretary of State confident in arming Ukraine – mediaThe Ukraine bill passed the House anyway but stalled in the Senate at the hands of Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who was also in the running to be the nation's top diplomat.
The Senate version was introduced December 9, days before the chamber adjourned for the year, with only Democratic cosponsors. A Corker aide blamed a lack of consensus between the administration and lawmakers from both parties for the absence of bipartisan support in the Senate following bipartisan passage in the House.
Though Exxon's Washington office typically operates without much interference from headquarters in Irving, Texas, one of Tillerson's first big initiatives as CEO was to review the company's position on climate change. According to the book "Private Empire" by journalist Steve Coll, Tillerson wanted the company to find a way to conform to the scientific consensus on climate change without admitting it ever strayed, which could open the door to tobacco company-style lawsuits.
Tillerson's acceptance of climate science puts him at odds with Trump, who has repeatedly question man-made global warming. As secretary of state, Tillerson would have significant sway over the Trump administration's climate policy, including the future of its participation in the United Nations pact to cut global emissions, which conservatives abhor. Exxon itself backed the Paris climate deal, which Trump has said he is still deciding whether to cancel.
Still, Tillerson's position will not spare him a skewering from Democrats, who are eager to use his confirmation hearing to confront him on Exxon's record. The New York and Massachusetts attorneys general are investigating whether Exxon downplayed the risks of climate change.
"I am deeply troubled by Mr. Tillerson's vocal opposition to U.S. sanctions on Russia following its illegal invasion, occupation and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine, and his close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin," Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. He added: "Mr. Tillerson has demonstrated he knows the corporate world and can put his shareholders' interests first, but can he be a respected Secretary of State that puts the national security interests of the American people first? It remains to be seen."