Exxon CEO Appointed Secretary of State: A Controversial Climate Choice

Photo by Prachatai/CC by NC-ND 2.0


Article by Elizabeth Perle


Former ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be Trump’s Secretary of State on Wednesday, sparking immediate backlash among environmentalists and climate concerned policy makers who insist appointing an oil mogul as the nation’s top diplomat undermines action to address climate change.

As CEO of ExxonMobil Tillerson pushed to allow oil drilling in the Arctic, now Tillerson will lead international negotiations surrounding the future of the Arctic and its protection. Government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice, have input regarding the nation’s climate policy but the Secretary of State controls diplomatic efforts on the issue.

Tillerson said in a testimony with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 11 that, “The risk of climate change does exist, and the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken.” He also added that, “The increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.  And I do not see climate change as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do.”

The scientific community disagrees as it is highly confident global warming will lead to changes in the climate, including a rise in extreme weather events and sea levels.

Tillerson has accepted the scientific consensus that human-made climate change is real. In 2009, he voiced support for putting a carbon tax on fossil fuels. However, as CEO of ExxonMobil, he did not make the carbon tax a focus. Unlike competitors, such as BP and Shell, ExxonMobil supported the tax nearly a year after Paris talks concluded.

ExxonMobil is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over misreporting its oil and gas reserves.  The company also remains under inspection for misleading investors on the risks of climate change to avoid negative business impacts. ExxonMobil also maintains leadership positions and associations with trade and industry groups that claim climate change is a hoax. Environmentalists find it hard to believe the head of ExxonMobil would not be informed of scientific data on climate change.

Environmental groups believe Tillerson’s confirmation sends the message that the new administration and Senate do not take climate change seriously.


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