Why would Exxon donate $1 million to a carbon tax initiative?

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Enlarge / MIDLAND, Tex. - JANUARY 20: A pumpjack sits on the outskirts of town at dawn in the Permian Basin oil field on January 21, 2016 in the oil town of Midland, Texas. (credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that ExxonMobil had committed $1 million to a Republican-led carbon tax initiative called Americans for Carbon Dividends (AFCD). The story is a bit surprising on its face: it seems counterintuitive that an oil company would want to give money to an initiative that would tax its (considerable) carbon contribution. The other surprising factor is that some Republicans, who have traditionally resisted both climate policy and tax increases, are advocating for both.

But dig a little deeper and the story isn't terribly surprising. For ExxonMobil's part, the company has been fighting an image battle in recent years: it's facing significant lawsuits alleging that its scientists knew about climate change for decades and actively misled investors about it through advertisements and other public denials. Consequently, Exxon has made choices in recent years to reflect a more "eco-conscious" oil company, pledging to reduce methane emissions by 15 percent by 2020, for example.

Furthermore, Exxon's $1 million commitment is a drop in the company's considerable bucket. The donation to AFCD is just 0.00027 percent of ExxonMobil's $366 billion market capitalization, suggesting it isn't reflective of any serious change of course for the company. Additionally, that donation will be split up into two payments of $500,000, so the burden is even less significant.

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