Share Mark Humphrey/APThe U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control says that Exxon Mobil must pay a $2 million penalty for allegedly violating sanctions on Russia.U.S. oil company Exxon Mobil says it will withdraw from its joint venture with Russia’s state-controlled Rosneft due to U.S. and European sanctions against the country.Exxon Mobil had signed a deal with Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil producer, in 2011 that aimed to drill in difficult terrain, like Russia’s Arctic waters. It combined Exxon’s high level of technology with Rosneft’s access to the area.The deal came under strain, however, after the U.S. sanctioned Russia in 2014 over the invasion of Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula. The sanctions did not affect existing deals in the energy sector, but prohibited any business with Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, an influential oligarch in Russia.That created a series of hurdles for the partnership. Exxon has applied for a waiver but without success. Last year, the U.S. Treasury fined Exxon $2 million for signing new deals with Sechin in 2014. Exxon sued the U.S. government to stop the fine.The deal has come under extra scrutiny because Rex Tillerson, the current secretary of state, was the Exxon CEO who had struck the deal and has had reportedly good personal ties with Sechin.As America’s top diplomat, Tillerson has insisted the sanctions will stay in place until Russia reverses course in Ukraine and gives back Crimea. Still, the Russian deal on his watch raises significant questions about his ability to credibly enforce the sanctions and to persuade European countries to keep doing so.The situation was escalated further last year, when the U.S. expanded sanctions against Russia for allegedly interfering in the U.S. presidential election.Exxon said in a note to its earnings report late Wednesday that it had made the decision to end the partnership in late 2017.“The corporation expects it will formally initiate the withdrawal in 2018,” at a cost of about $200 million, it said.Rosneft spokesperson Mikhail Leontyev said that Exxon had been forced to retreat by the sanctions regime.“Unfortunately, it was an expected event related to sanctions,” he was quoted as saying by Russian newswire Tass.
Share Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez, US Air National GuardThe City of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department announced March 14, 2018, it is increasing part of its staff to focus on the post-Harvey recovery. This file photo shows a Houston neighborhood that the historic storm flooded in summer 2017.Little more than two months before Hurricane Harvey slammed the Gulf Coast of Texas, Alberto Castañeda let his home’s flood insurance lapse. He had never filed a claim on the policy in 10 years and he needed the extra cash to expand his restaurant business.Standing inside his suburban Houston home nearly a year later, Castañeda tallies the cost of the destructive floods to himself and his uninsured neighbors: one couple in their 70s let their home go into foreclosure; two people, overwhelmed by the difficulties of rebuilding, committed suicide; Castañeda, 52, ended up using nearly $135,000 from his business to cover repairs to his home that Harvey submerged under more than 2 feet (60 centimeters) of water.“It’s very devastating, especially if you don’t have the insurance. You feel like, ‘What am I going to do?’” Castañeda tearfully explains.Castañeda bought new flood insurance after Harvey, and many others in Texas have done the same. But data from states with a history of extreme weather suggests those numbers will eventually drop off, leaving residents once again vulnerable to flooding costs — a situation the Federal Emergency Management Agency says it’s working to avoid.Houston, in Harris County, suffered the brunt of Harvey when it pummeled Texas last August. Harvey dumped nearly 50 inches (130 centimeters) of rain on parts of the flood-prone city. The storm killed nearly 70 people, damaged more than 300,000 structures and caused an estimated $125 billion in damage.Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the top elected county official, says more than 100,000 flooded homes in Harris County didn’t have flood insurance. According to FEMA, 80 percent of all households affected by Harvey weren’t covered for floods.An AP analysis found fewer than one in five properties in high-risk flood zones had coverage.Commercial properties also found themselves in trouble.“All of this was just a big lake,” says Woody Lesikar, the manager of West Houston Airport, pointing to the runway and around 80 hangars that Harvey submersed under up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) of water. The terminal was swamped and almost a dozen planes were totaled.He says the airport had never needed flood insurance in its more than 50-year history. A month after Harvey, the airport purchased a policy.According to FEMA, Texas experienced a more than 18 percent increase in flood insurance policies from July 2017 to the end of May, reversing a long-term declining trend. Harris County, including hardest-hit Houston, saw a near 23 percent jump, while neighboring Fort Bend County, where Castañeda lives, saw a 54 percent increase. The number of properties insured against floods in Houston alone increased by 18 percent, rocketing it past Miami as the city with the most flood insurance policies in the country.But experts warn the data doesn’t mean a permanent upswing.Residents tend to buy policies for a few years after big disasters then cancel because they feel the unused policy is an unnecessary expense, said Howard Kunreuther, co-director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.In Louisiana, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the number of flood insurance policies jumped from 380,000 to 490,000 in one year. That fell to 450,000 but then climbed again after catastrophic flooding in Baton Rouge and Lafayette in 2016. Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance James Donelon warns this may not last.“Our experience over the past 10 years is that memories fade and people … put their greatest asset at risk of being lost in the next severe rain event,” Donelon says.The year after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, flood insurance policies increased by 2 percent in New Jersey and 12.5 percent in New York. But since the end of 2013, policies have dropped by 7.4 percent in New Jersey and 8 percent in New York.FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program has come under criticism for not doing enough to persuade home and business owners to purchase coverage. Last year, the program announced its “moonshot goal” of doubling by 2022 the number of structures in the U.S. covered by flood insurance from 4 million to 8 million.FEMA says it has targeted areas identified using high-tech mapping tools that narrowly missed being flooded during Harvey for insurance advertising, resulting in increased coverage in Texas.“What we’re trying to drive is really a culture of preparedness,” said Paul Huang, the assistant administrator for federal insurance at FEMA.But that goal might be hard to attain. Policies nationally had been declining since 2009, and despite the bump in Texas since Harvey, coverage has continued to drop in most states, according to an AP analysis of FEMA data.Donelon says he doesn’t think the FEMA program will boost its numbers unless coverage is required on all federally backed mortgages. And he warns that congressional reauthorization of the program, which is saddled with $20 billion in debt, could result in higher premiums.Standing in his home, still without floors, cabinets or appliances, Castañeda hopes he can move back in by the end of July.“We’ve bought the insurance and whatever happens, happens in the future,” he says.