with Alexandra Ellerbeck

President Trump did ExxonMobil no favors when he suggested he would do favors for the oil giant.

Exxon was already in the middle of one of its most tumultuous years ever before the president riffed about a hypothetical phone call between him and the company's chief executive.

"I would take in more money, but you know what? I don't want to do that … I call the head of Exxon. I don’t know, you know, I'll use a company. ‘Hi, how are you doing? How’s energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits?' ” Trump told supporters in Arizona earlier this week. “I say, ‘You know, I’d love [for] you to send me $25 million for the campaign.’ ‘Absolutely sir, why didn’t you ask? Would you like some more?’ ”

The company quickly made clear that a phone call about donations “never happened.” Trump invoked the company's name when claiming he could outraise his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, but has chosen not to do so since it would compromise his own job in the White House. 

Still, the exchange with Trump caps off a stretch in which the oil company hasn't been able to catch a break.

Once the world's most valuable company, the Irving, Tex.-based oil icon has slipped from its perch atop corporate America over the past few months during the coronavirus pandemic.

With demand for oil down as Americans fly and drive less, Exxon this summer ended a nearly century-long run on the Dow Jones industrial average, replaced by the cloud computing company Salesforce. 

Exxon joined the Dow back in 1928 when it was known as Standard Oil of New Jersey. Its expulsion from the Dow came after Apple split its stock and as Silicon Valley becomes an increasingly important part of the U.S. economy.

With oil trading at or below around $40 a barrel since the start of the pandemic, Exxon reported a quarterly loss of $610 million in May — its first in decades — followed by another loss of $1.1 billion three months later. 

“Our portfolio of options is the strongest it has been in more than two decades,” Exxon spokesman Casey Norton said of Exxon's expulsion from the Dow, “and our focus remains on creating shareholder value by responsibly meeting the world’s energy needs.”

Even among major U.S. energy companies, Exxon hasn't weathered the pandemic as well as some of its rivals.

In fact, Chevron, which for years sat behind Exxon as the country's second-biggest oil company, briefly saw its market capitalization surpass Exxon's this month.

“Everyone in the oil industry is feeling the pain from the unprecedentedly severe falloff in global oil demand due to the pandemic,” said Pavel Molchanov, an energy analyst at ‎Raymond James. “But Exxon’s problems had originated long before covid-19."

After missing out on the beginning of the shale boom, Exxon invested heavily in gas production by buying XTO Energy in 2010. But prices have trended down since that acquisition because of a glut of fracked gas.

Chevron, which like Exxon is a descendant of John D. Rockefeller ’s Standard Oil, isn't as invested in either chemicals or the European gas market as its rival, according to Molchanov. Both sectors faced head winds before the pandemic hit, he said.

Exxon's management says it expects a rebound eventually, since all economies need energy. 

“We don’t think the long term has changed,” Neil Chapman, the company's senior vice president, told investors in July. “It is a cyclical business. The fundamentals have not changed. The population will continue to grow.”

But Tom Sanzillo and Kathy Hipple of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, which conducts research on energy and the environment, says Exxon is discounting how much both renewable energy and electric vehicles are set to grow following the pandemic. 

“Exxon assumes that growing populations and economies will increase energy demand,” they wrote in a recent commentary. “If this assumption is correct, is ExxonMobil positioned to take advantage of this growth? Given withering revenues, bloated debt levels and eviscerated asset values, and the financial position of ExxonMobil, absolutely and relative to its peers over the last 10 years, the clear answer is no.”

Even as European oil giants BP and Dutch Royal Shell increase their investment in renewable energy, Exxon says it is sticking with the oil and gas business. Its chief executive, Darren Woods, has called rivals' moves to reduce emissions a “beauty competition” that wouldn't do much to stop climate change. 

Indeed, Exxon endured another bout of bad press this month after documents leaked to Bloomberg News show it expects its own yearly emissions to surge by 17 percent by 2025. 

Trump and Exxon have a long history.

Trump tapped Rex Tillerson, the company's former chief executive, to be his first secretary of state. But the president and the former oilman sparred in private for months before Trump fired him in a tweet in 2018. Since his dramatic departure, Tillerson has called Trump an “undisciplined” man who “doesn’t like to read.” 

At the same time, the oil industry in general has been a big beneficiary of Trump's policies of cutting back on regulations and opening more public land to drilling. 

The company declined to comment about when Woods, the new CEO, and Trump last spoke. The Exxon chief and other oil executives met with Trump at the White House in April during the worst of the oil price crunch.

“The president appeared to be describing a hypothetical situation. No such conversation occurred,” said Norton, the company spokesman. “ExxonMobil complies with all applicable laws and regulations.”

Still, writ large, the oil sector clearly favors Trump's party over the Democrats. Although political donations from the industry are down during the pandemic, the vast majority of its election spending — about 84 percent — is going toward Republicans during this cycle, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Power plays

China blames the United States for undermining international progress on climate change.

Beijing blasted Washington on Monday for rolling back environmental protections, withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement and emitting more greenhouse gases than any country since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The accusations, released in a fact sheet by Beijing’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, come in response to a Sept. 25 document from the U.S. State Department that accused China of “unsustainably exporting natural resources,” The Post’s Steven Mufson reports.

China has surpassed the United States as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but the United States still contributes twice as much in emissions per capita. China’s report cites Trump’s rollback of nearly 70 environmental policies and the U.S. failure to honor funding commitments to the Global Environment Fund. It blames the United States for a failure to reach a consensus on climate change at Group of 20 meetings since 2017.

House Democrats introduced a bill aimed at generating clean energy in the oceans.

“The more than 300-page legislation is broadly billed as a ‘blue carbon’ bill — a way to harvest clean energy while protecting fisheries and resources like marshes and wetlands that can store carbon and protect eroding shorelines,” the Hill reports.

The Ocean Based Climate Solutions Act proposes an expansion in the number of permits issued for offshore wind, even as it would ban offshore drilling. The bill also aims to protect 30 percent of ocean habitats by 2030 and shore up the resilience of coastal communities to the effects of climate change.

The Trump campaign objected to topics for Thursday’s debate.

Climate change is among six topics to be discussed in the final presidential debate to be moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, according to a statement from the Commission on Presidential Debates. Other subjects include “fighting covid-19,” “American families,” “race in America,” “national security” and “leadership,” with about 15 minutes allotted to each topic.

The Trump campaign, however, has objected to the topics, arguing in a letter sent by campaign manager Bill Stepien to the Commission on Presidential debates that the campaign “had expected foreign policy would be the central focus” of the debate. 

The letter, which accuses the Commission on Presidential Debates of being pro-Biden, claims “almost all” of the proposed topics were “discussed at length during the first debate won by President Trump over moderator Chris Wallace and candidate Joe Biden.” The campaign also objects to a proposed rule change that would allow candidates’ microphones to be switched off if they exceed the time limit or attempt to interrupt each other. 

Thermometer

Coastal flood warnings are now common even during fair-weather days as sea-level rise contributes to extra high tides. 

Extra-high tides, known as king tides, usually peak in the fall, based on the orbits of the sun and moon. Historically they haven’t been a problem, but increasingly they are resembling the type of flooding seen during a storm, even when skies are clear, The Post's Matthew Cappucci writes.

“The rise in water has left thousands of homes and businesses vulnerable to sunny-day flooding, disrupting daily life and undermining property values in some areas,” Cappucci writes. “As greenhouse gases resulting from human activity continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and warm the climate, sea-level rise and coastal inundation will only continue to grow with time, even on sunny days." 

A Western drought is breaking records and driving fires.

The West has experienced its “largest and most intense drought in years,” Cappucci reports. “A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Southwest may already be in the midst of the first human-caused megadrought in at least 1,200 years, which began in the year 2000.”

This year has been particularly bad, with dry weather contributing to a devastating fire season, including the largest fire in Colorado’s history.

“Human-caused climate change is increasing the likelihood of precipitation extremes on both ends of the scale, including droughts as well as heavy rainfall events and resulting floods,” Cappucci writes. “Studies consistently show that as the Southwest warms, the odds of drought are increasing.” 

Oil check

ConocoPhillips pledged ‘net zero’ emissions by mid-century.

“Taking a page from the book of European rivals already pledged to go net zero, Conoco surprised investors and analysts Monday by outlining plans to reduce its so-called scope 1 and 2 emissions by as much as 45% by 2030. The goal is to wind that down to nothing by 2045 to 2055, the Houston-based company said in a slide presentation,” Bloomberg News reports.

Scope 1 emissions are those from sources owned or controlled by the oil company, while scope 2 emissions include the greenhouse gas impact of electricity purchased by ConocoPhillips. The company’s climate target, however, does not include scope 3 emissions, which make up 80 percent of fossil fuel pollution and include emissions from customers burning the company’s oil or natural gas. 

The commitment is less ambitious than those made by Royal Dutch Shell and BP, but it sets ConocoPhillips apart from its other U.S. peers, which largely have avoided making ambitious commitments to emissions reductions.