Rex Tillerson, former chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, has moved a step closer to being confirmed as President Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, with a vote split straight down party lines — 11 Republicans voted in favor, and 10 Democrats voted against.
Back in December, Rex Tillerson’s name was announced as Donald Trump’s preferred nomination for the position of US Secretary of State. At the time, I, along with many others, were immediately concerned with the nomination of a once-CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest multinational oil & gas companies.
“This sets a very alarming path for the new administration, and therefore the rest of us,” said Corinna Gilfillan, Head of Global Witness’ US office. “On Rex Tillerson’s watch, Exxon is accused of misleading the public about what it knew of the threat from climate change, for which it’s now under investigation by the New York Attorney General. At the same time it has systematically struck backroom deals with tyrannical regimes and been at the forefront of Big Oil’s efforts to gut laws that would reduce corruption in the oil, gas and mining sector. For all these reasons, he shouldn’t become our top diplomat or global representative on climate.”
CleanTechnica’s Tina Casey dug into the potential impact of appointing an oil & gas executive to such a high position of authority, and the trickle-down impact it could have on the coal industry.
In addition, Tillerson’s ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin have raised serious concerns about the influence Russia will manage to impose on American politics.
However, unlike all the other nominees currently undergoing Senate confirmation hearings, I have been relatively impressed with the way Tillerson has comported himself. Even before his nomination, Tillerson was in favor of a tax on carbon to some degree, saying back in October, 2015: “We have held the view that a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the best option. (It) could be a workable policy framework for countries around the world. They can tailor it to their own economic conditions.” Tillerson has also publicly acknowledged the dangers of global warming.
While the words of a potential politician are always to be taken with a grain of salt, Rex Tillerson seemed to take seriously the possibility he would be the United States’ next Secretary of State. In his confirmation hearing Tillerson again backed the idea of a carbon tax and acknowledged the dangers of global warming — though he did not believe it was the imminent security threat others take it to be, nor did he believe that the literature on the issue was conclusive; in and of itself, not great things to hear, but he has nevertheless shown himself willing to learn and be taught.
On issues beyond our scope here at CleanTechnica, Tillerson was repeatedly clear that any ties he may or may not have with Russia, and its leader, would never impact his role. Tillerson explained that, had he been in office when Russia annexed Crimea, he would have recommended providing arms and intelligent support to the Ukraine Government. “What the Russian leadership would have understood is a powerful response,” he said.
Tillerson also split from his potential boss on whether Japan and South Korea should be allowed access to nuclear weapons, a potential ban on Muslim immigration, and the need to restrict Russia’s expanding influence. Tillerson also called for China to be denied access to the artificial islands it has created in the South China Sea — a move which immediately riled up Chinese state news media, which said that such a move would provoke a massive conflict between the two nations.
Of course, not everything Tillerson said was completely reassuring, as Senator Marco Rubio explained in a Facebook post earlier this week. Paula Caballero of the World Resources Institute also raised concerns about Tillerson:
“As the nation’s top diplomat, Tillerson has a responsibility to do what is best for the American people. While he repeatedly called for the U.S. to keep a ‘seat at the table’ on climate change, this response is insufficient. At his hearing, Tillerson missed numerous opportunities to make clear that he would continue U.S. leadership on climate, one of the greatest economic and national security threats of our time. He drastically understated the certainty scientists have about the severity of climate change and the urgency to address it. You don’t wait for a house fire to buy insurance — and in this case the house is already smoking.”
Nevertheless, Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the group conducting Tillerson’s confirmation hearing — explained that the nominee was working hard to show he was qualified and free of any ties that would impede him in doing the job of Secretary of State:
“The non-partisan director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) recently stated that Mr. Tillerson is making ‘a clean break’ from Exxon and is free of these conflicts. He has even gone so far to say that Mr. Tillerson’s ethics agreement ‘serves as a sterling model for what we would like to see from other nominees. He clearly recognizes that public service sometimes comes at a cost.’”
In the end, the potential good that Rex Tillerson could do as Secretary of State appears to outweigh the few qualms we might have with some of his personal viewpoints. While I believe that global warming and renewable energy are major issues, I also believe that the world is currently threatened with numerous immediate threats, while the global transition towards a low-carbon economy has progressed so far already that it would take superhuman measures to significantly roll back, and retard future momentum after Trump’s four years in office.
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