The Surprising Climate Change Believer Among Trump's Cabinet Picks

Compared to nominees for cabinet positions that deal with energy and the environment, Rex Tillerson, Trump's choice for Secretary of State, appears to be the only 'climate believer' even though he heads America's largest oil and gas corporation.

3 minute read

December 17, 2016, 11:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Rex Tillerson

GongTo / Shutterstock

"ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson — just tapped to be Trump’s secretary of state, and hence perhaps the future lead player in U.S. international climate negotiations — has tended to articulate a more nuanced position on climate change," writes It’s one that, at least in the context of how Trump’s administration is shaping up on energy and environmental policy, could almost be called moderate."

Indeed, the three candidates selected for cabinet positions that deal directly with energy and environment have all been called either climate skeptics at best or climate deniers:

  • Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke for secretary of the interior
  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for secretary of energy 
  • Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for Environmental Protection Agency administrator

By contrast, Rex Tillerson appears to be the only believer in climate change even though he heads America's largest, and world's fifth largest, oil and gas company. Two of his, or ExxonMobil's positions, on climate change were noted here in past posts:

Today marks the entering into force of the Paris climate agreement. The agreement is an important step forward by world governments in addressing the serious risks of climate change.

ExxonMobil supports the work of the Paris signatories, acknowledges the ambitious goals of this agreement and believes the company has a constructive role to play in developing solutions.

  • In January 2009, a post pointed to his Tillerson's support for a carbon tax:

Rex Tillerson said that a tax was a "more direct, a more transparent and a more effective approach" to curtailing greenhouse gases than other plans [e.g., cap-and-trade] popular in Congress and with the incoming Obama administration.

Tillerson's position on climate change are a 180 degree change from his predecessor, explains Mooney, "and is hard to label a 'denier.'”

Where Tillerson gets into more contested territory, though, is his assessment of the scale of the risks and how to respond to them. He suggested at that 2012 event that the impacts of things like sea-level rise would probably be “manageable” — something that very much remains to be seen.

Most prominent of all, perhaps, was Tillerson’s technological optimism about humans finding a way to solve the problem.

While Tillerson may be better on climate than other cabinet selections, environmental groups don't see much difference. His nomination "drew an immediate rebuke [Dec. 14] from environmental groups and policy makers insistent that an oil executive as the country’s chief diplomat would undermine global action to address climate change," reports Justin Worland, energy and the environment reporter for TIME.

The Sierra Club's press release attacked the nomination by rebuking ExxonMobil, and Tillerson for heading it, but not him personally as it is targeting Scott Pruitt, the EPA Administrator nominee.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 in The Washington Post - Energy and Environment

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