with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Major oil companies joined the chorus in corporate America distancing themselves from their past political donations in the wake of the violent clash at the Capitol on Wednesday.

At least five big firms in the energy business say they are reconsidering — and, in some cases, suspending — donations to politicians after a mob supporting President Trump stormed Congress as it worked to certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory. 

The moves by the oil sector, one of the most influential in Washington, may be consequential if the industry ends up making major changes to the money it spends in politics. 

Yet critics are leery, questioning whether any halt in donations will last after the shock of the attack wears off.

Either way, the response is a sign that the violent attack on Washington is no normal political fight.

It's all part of the broader reassessment about how the energy business and other sectors are fueling divisions in politics.

Both ConocoPhillips and BP's employee-funded political action committee are suspending political contributions for at least six months as they consider what to do next, representatives for the two firms told The Energy 202. 

John Roper, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips, said the decision was made in “light of the Congress’s recent vote on the certification of the electoral college results." Altogether, eight GOP senators and 139 Republican House members voted against approving the results.

Marathon Petroleum, the largest petroleum refinery operator by volume in the country, is also pausing political contributions. The Ohio-based firm did not say when it would resume them.

"The violence that took place at the Capitol was appalling, and we condemn it unequivocally," Marathon Petroleum spokesman Jamal Kheiry said. “We’re glad Congress was able to resume its important work toward the lawful transition to the Biden-Harris administration.” 

And ExxonMobil and Chevron, the two most valuable U.S. oil companies, said they are reviewing PAC donations, but did not say they were pausing contributions. “Previous contributions to a candidate do not indicate that the ExxonMobil PAC will contribute again in the future,” Exxon spokesman Casey Norton said. 

The oil sector wasn't alone. But it is not going as far as others.

The hotel giant Marriott, health insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and financial services company American Express went a step beyond the energy companies by suspending donations specifically to lawmakers who voted against declaring Biden the election winner, as our colleagues Todd C. Frankel, Jeff Stein and Tony Romm report.

Moira Birss, a climate and finance director at Amazon Watch, said it is strange the oil companies are halting donations to all candidates rather than to just those who voted against certifying Biden.

“It's confusing that it would be a blanket halt on donations,” Birss said.

Noting the companies may go back to their regular donations in a few months, she added, “How long are they going to be opposed to donating to politicians that are white supremacists [or] nationalists, as some of them seem to be?”

In recent years, the vast majority — around 84 percent in 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — of the money spent on political campaigns by the oil industry went to Republicans, who tend to support easing regulations on production and refining. 

Yet the oil sector's political punch has diminished during the coronavirus pandemic. The drop-off in industry spending during the 2020 cycle comes as the viral outbreak depresses demand for gasoline, jet fuel and other petroleum products as Americans fly and drive less. 

Power plays

The National Park Service suspended tours of the Washington Monument because of security concerns.

The Park Service cited “credible threats” around Biden’s presidential inauguration on Jan. 20 as the reason behind its move to suspend tours through Jan. 24, our colleague Paulina Firozi reports. The announcement noted that groups involved in the attack on the Capitol last week “continue to threaten to disrupt the 59th presidential inauguration.” The Park Service said it may also temporarily close certain areas within the Mall and Memorial Parks, “if conditions warrant.”

Two Trump political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency resigned over the attack on the Capitol.

Brittany Bolen, who leads the EPA's policy shop, and Joseph Brazauskas, head of the agency's Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations Office, have joined a wave of officials departing the administration in the wake of a violent riot in the Capitol, E&E News reports. “Given the events of this week, I can no longer serve in this Administration,” Bolen said in a letter to Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Friday. Brazauskas echoed that language in a letter on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Rita Baranwal, the assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy at the Energy Department, announced on Friday in a series of tweets that she was leaving her position. She did not tie her departure to the attack on the Capitol.

Biden will nominate Clean Power Plan defender William J. Burns as the next CIA director.

Burns, a longtime diplomat and former deputy secretary of state, currently serves at the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he has been vocal about the “existential” threat of climate change. He penned an op-ed defending the Obama-era Clean Power Plan when it faced a court challenge in 2016. During the Obama administration, Burns helped lead negotiations that resulted in the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.

The White House intervened with EPA guidance on chemicals linked to cancer.

As the Environmental Protection Agency was weighing a ban on importing any products with PFAS chemicals, the White House Office of Management and Budget stepped in to weaken the guidelines, according to documents reviewed by the Hill. The White House edited the guidelines to only bar importation of products with PFAS coating on the outside, allowing companies to import products that have the cancer-causing chemicals on the inside without notifying the EPA. PFAS chemicals have been called “forever chemicals” because they don’t degrade in the environment.

The EPA threw its support behind the Yazoo Pumps Project in Mississippi.

Speaking at a press conference in Mississippi, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced that the agency had signed a memorandum of understanding with state leaders in support of the controversial flood control project.

The project would put a giant pumping station in the Yazoo Backwater Area to move floodwaters back to the Mississippi River. The EPA vetoed the project in 2008 and critics say that it would be devastating to local wetlands, but it picked up increased support since 2018 when the area experienced catastrophic flooding.

Wheeler was accompanied in Mississippi by EPA Chief of Staff Mandy Gunasekara.

“The proud people of the South Delta are forgotten no more,” said Gunasekara, whose home state is Mississippi.

Gunasekara is perhaps best known for handing a snowball to her former boss, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who proceeded to mock the idea that global warming was occurring in a speech on the Senate floor. She previously served as the EPA's top air policy advisor before leaving the agency for a year to create a pro-Trump nonprofit. She pushed Trump to rollback environmental regulations and leave the Paris climate accord. 

Gunasekara has mentioned to administration colleagues in the past that she might consider running for office at some point, according to an individual who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations

Extra mileage

Colombia is running out of time to deal with its invasive hippos.

The invasive hippo population in Colombia pollutes local waterways, competes with native wildlife and occasionally attacks people. Its numbers could swell to 1,500 individuals by 2040, at which point it will be hard to roll back the ecological impact. But after an effort to kill invasive hippos sparked a backlash from animal rights activists and the courts, scientists have been left with the dangerous and challenging option of trying to sterilize the 4,000-pound mammals, our colleague Sarah Kaplan reports.

Kaplan describes a 2013 effort to sterilize a large male hippo: “It was hard enough to find the hippo, a massive, ornery male with a reputation for harassing local ranchers,” she writes. “But castrating it — that was an almost herculean task. They had to inject it with a potent elephant tranquilizer before it was safe to approach. Even with the hippo immobilized, it was surprisingly difficult to locate his, ahem, parts.”

The hippo problem is a legacy of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, who smuggled four hippos onto his private estate. After he died, officials were reluctant to approach the large and aggressive animals and instead allowed them to roam freely.