Lawmakers are advancing efforts to curtail energy giant Chevron's activities in Myanmar, which are said to provide significant financial support for the ruling military junta. The regime is responsible for recent violence against democracy activists.
Chevron is part of a multi-billion-dollar consortium that extracts and transports natural gas from the country, which has suffered weeks of violence by government troops against Buddhist monks, students and other pro-democracy activists, according to experts and human rights groups.
Much of the ruling junta's financial support comes from the royalties and other revenue paid by Chevron and the other members of the gas operation. The group paid more than $2 billion to the Myanmar government last year, according to the group Human Rights Watch.
U.S. sanctions largely prohibit investment in Myanmar by U.S. companies. Chevron's investment pre-dated the U.S. sanctions, and was grandfathered in by the ban. It is the only major U.S. company remaining in Myanmar.
THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS
On Tuesday, the House Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a bill by its chairman, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., that would bar the firm from paying taxes to the government of Myanmar, or write off expenses relating to the project from its U.S. tax bill.
The legislation now moves to two other committees for approval, before it is voted on by the full House.
A similar Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is awaiting action in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That bill would make the earlier ban apply to Chevron's operation, and force the company to divest.
On Monday, President Bush announced a host of new sanctions against Myanmar's rulers. Bush's measures did not affect Chevron's participation in the country.
Asked about Chevron's position on the bills, its Washington, D.C. lobbying office referred questions to Chevron's public affairs department. There, a spokeswoman told ABC News that its responses to questions regarding Myanmar, both current and future, were in a statement published on the Chevron Web site.
In that statement, dated Oct. 2, Chevron calls its Myanmar project "a long term commitment that will help meet the critical energy needs of millions of people in the region." Additionally, the statement states, the project's partners have invested in health care and education programs for locals in the region of the gas project.
Chevron spends heavily on Capitol Hill. In the first six months of 2007, the company paid more than $4.3 million for representation by over a dozen lobbyists from its own offices and four outside firms, and spread another $143,160 in contributions to candidates through its political action committee.