Climate Central, the Palmer Square-based, independent group of scientists and journalists dedicated to reporting the facts about global warming, has been closely monitoring the Trump transition for hints of how the new government will handle climate change. In two articles, Climate Change analyzed Trump’s picks. Below, an excerpt from an article by John Upton:
President-elect Trump on December 12 rounded out a potential dream team of anti-environment cabinet members with the chief executive officer of ExxonMobil, among the world’s 10 largest companies and one that has profited from global warming and worked to slow the fight against climate change.
If the nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state is approved by Congress, he would have more influence over America’s role in global environmental agreements than any other member of Trump’s administration — including its participation in the historic United Nations climate pact negotiated last year in Paris.
“Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream,” Trump said in a statement on December 12. “His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for Secretary of State.”
ExxonMobil, where Tillerson has worked since 1975, is being investigated by more than a dozen states after InsideClimate News revealed last year that it spent decades ignoring its own scientists’ research tying fossil fuels to climate change.
The $380 billion company’s alleged failure to account for the risks of climate change to its stockholders is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It’s also the target of a high-profile campaign by environmental groups over its climate impacts and propaganda.
Tillerson would need to step down from his job at ExxonMobil and sell off about $45 million worth of shares before working for the State Department to comply with ethics rules affecting federal employees. He could lose another $150 million in stocks that he’s not yet vested in because of ExxonMobil rules governing those shares.
Tillerson receives about $6 million in annual salary and bonus payments, plus he receives about three times that amount each year in stocks. Those stock payments come with restrictions for at least five years, limiting when he can receive or sell the shares. Those restrictions were designed to encourage executives to prioritize long-term profits over short-term gains.
“That’s an expensive nest egg to throw over the transom,” said Michael Wara, an energy and environmental law expert at Stanford. “If he doesn’t, I don’t see how he functions as secretary of state. If he’s willing to do that to serve — wow.”
Alternatively, Tillerson may try to secure what could be a wildly controversial waiver from Trump.
“Ethics rules are not so much aimed at protecting us from ExxonMobil, but in ensuring that government officials are acting in the public interest rather than their own private interests,” said Kathleen Clark, a professor at Washington University Law specializing in ethics. “This doesn’t apply to Congress and it does not apply to the president or vice president, but it applies to the secretary of state.”
The December 12 nomination announcement completed a political hat-trick for ExxonMobil, which recently suspended a deal to explore and pump oil in Siberia because of American sanctions imposed on Russia. As state secretary, Tillerson could seek to lift those sanctions, which could be worth tens of billions of dollars for the company.
ExxonMobil was set to be a major loser under the Paris climate pact, which aims to to limit fossil fuel burning and global warming. The treaty covers pollution released during the 2020s and has already been ratified by more than 100 countries, including the U.S.
“We have a Paris Agreement that still has many, many steps to be fully implemented,” said Kenneth Kimmell, president of the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. “U.S. leadership in the implementation of that agreement is critical, and the secretary of state is the point person.”
That American leadership role now appears to be deeply imperiled. . . Environmental groups and Democrats have vowed to fight Tillerson’s nomination, fearing that he will use America’s vast diplomatic apparatus to benefit ExxonMobil’s shareholders at the expense of Americans, their security and the stability of their climate.
. . . The main concerns over Tillerson’s nomination focus on his close relationship with Putin — he received the Order of Friendship from Russia in 2013 — and his long career in an industry that carries heavy responsibility for global warming. ExxonMobil is America’s biggest oil company and a study published in 2014 blamed it for more than 3 percent of global climate pollution released since the mid 1700s.
The nomination of the executive of a company that profits by polluting the atmosphere escalated fears that Trump would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, withdraw it entirely from U.N. climate negotiations or become an obstructionist during those talks.
Fossil fuel burning, deforestation and farming have increased temperatures by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit during the past two centuries and caused ice to melt into the seas, causing them to rise at a quickening pace. Greenhouse gas pollution has been scientifically linked to hotter and more frequent heat waves, regular coastal flooding, mass coral bleaching and die-offs and deadly downpours.
The amount of greenhouse gas pollution released globally annually stabilized in recent years following centuries of growth, but there are no robust signs that emissions are falling. A rapid decline in annual emissions would be needed to prevent warming from blowing past the ambitious temperature goals of the Paris agreement.
Trump falsely claimed during an appearance on Fox News over the weekend that “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real. He said he’s “studying” whether he would yank the U.S. from the Paris pact. Under the agreement, America voluntarily pledged to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions by a little more than a quarter by 2025, compared with 2005. It’s likely that Tillerson will now help Trump make that decision.
#b#Others on the Trump Team#/b#
In another article posted on the Climate Central website, www.climatecentral.org, writer Brian Kahn surveys others being tapped by the president-elect for cabinet and top level positions. The line-up is not encouraging for environmentalists. Excerpts follow:
Steve Bannon, Senior Advisor.
His views: Since 2012, Bannon has been in charge of Breitbart News, a site that espouses extremist right-wing views on a number of issues, including climate change. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart News has repeatedly referred to climate change as a hoax and denigrated everyone from scientists (“dishonest” and mostly “abject liars”) to the Pope (“a 16-year-old trotting out the formulaic bilge”) who has spoken out about the need to rein in carbon pollution.
According to James Delingpole, a writer for Breitbart, “one of his pet peeves is the great climate-change con . . . it’s going to be a core part of his administration’s political program.”
Bannon has also framed dealing with climate change and terrorism as an either/or choice (a similar theme has emerged with Trump’s national security picks as well. It’s also a false dichotomy).
What he could do: As senior advisor, Bannon will be in position to influence Trump’s thinking on a wide range of issues, including climate change.
Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff.
His views: As chair of the Republican National Committee, Priebus oversaw the creation of the 2016 party platform that called the widely respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution.”
During the primaries, Priebus criticized Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley for saying that “the cascading effects” of climate change contributed to the rise of ISIS despite the research directly linking the climate-change fueled Syrian drought to instability in the region.
More recently, Priebus reiterated that Trump “has his default position, which most of it is a bunch of bunk” when it comes to climate science.
What he could do: As chief of staff, Priebus will also have Trump’s ear and advise him on all fronts, including climate change. Traditionally, the chief of staff also acts as a gatekeeper to the president and works with Congress to communicate and enact the president’s agenda.
Senator Jeff Sessions, nominee for Attorney General.
His views: Sessions (R-Ala.) has repeatedly questioned climate change and voted against climate action. In a 2003 floor speech in opposition to the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, Sessions said, “I believe there are legitimate disputes about the validity and extent of global warming … Carbon dioxide does not hurt you. We have to have it in the atmosphere. It is what plants breathe. In fact, the more carbon dioxide that exists, the faster plants grow.”
Sessions repeated an oft-debunked claim that there’s been “almost no increase” in temperatures over the past 19 years during a December, 2015, episode of Washington Watch, a podcast put out by the conservative think tank Family Research Council.
Sessions also signed a letter to cut U.S. contributions to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which is designed to help poor countries adapt to climate change. He is also on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works where Republicans have attacked the U.S. commitments to the Paris Agreement and the EPA’s implementation of the Clean Power Plan.
What he could do: As attorney general, Sessions would be advising Trump on the legality of various climate rules and treaties, including the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement. Sessions would also be head of the Justice Department, which is currently defending the Clean Power Plan in court. As Attorney General, Sessions could tell federal government to stop arguing the case, though how that would work and what would come after is unclear according to Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. Burger said there are a number of states, cities and environmental organizations that could continue the defense.
Wilbur Ross, nominee for Commerce Secretary
His views: Ross is a billionaire who made his fortune in buying distressed companies, cutting costs and selling them for a profit. In the past, he’s invested in coal companies and has recently moved into the oil and gas industry.
Beyond those investments, Ross hasn’t said anything about his interest or understanding of climate science.
What he could do: As Commerce Secretary, he would oversee the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $189 million climate research budget. One of Trump’s advisors has suggested shifting some of NASA’s climate science responsibilities to NOAA, further expanding the amount of climate work Ross would be in charge of.
Ben Carson, nominee for Housing Secretary
His views: Carson has said the climate is changing but implied that he views it as part of natural fluctuations. At a 2015 campaign event, he said “of course there’s climate change. Temperatures are going up or going down. When it stops happening, that’s when we’re in big trouble.”
He reiterated that view in a December 2015 interview with Sky News, noting that “when things stop changing, then we’re dead.” Despite Carson’s assertion, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the current rise in global temperatures is due almost completely to human carbon pollution.
In that same interview, when asked if he would have attended the Paris climate talks, Carson said he would have but that he doesn’t view climate change as a marquee issue. Similar to other nominees in Trump’s cabinet, Carson denigrated the idea that climate change can help fuel terrorism.
What he could do: As Housing Secretary, Carson would be in charge of a $47 billion budget to address a variety of housing needs around the country, particularly for low-income communities. That includes community development block grants, a flexible funding source administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help with disaster response and community improvement projects that can address climate change. From 2005-13, HUD administered $43 billion in grants to assist with disaster recovery.
Climate change tends to disproportionately affect low-income communities, making HUD’s planning for it that much more important. For example, Hurricane Sandy left 80,000 New Yorkers living in public housing without heat, power and hot water for up to 2 weeks. Sea level rise will only make future storm surge that much more fierce and damaging.
Sea level rise and its impact on public housing is just one risk climate change poses to HUD’s mission. Extreme rainfall, higher temperatures, melting permafrost and increases in wildfires all pose threats to HUD programs from cities to Indian reservations to rural areas. HUD has an adaptation plan in place to assess those risks and prepare public housing, home lending and other programs for the challenges of climate change but it seems unlikely Carson would make that a priority.
Scott Pruitt, nominee for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
His views: As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt has been a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, a vocal critic of the EPA, and has questioned the validity of climate science. Pruitt has helped lead the lawsuit against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which he labeled as “anti-fossil fuel.” He has also argued against other state attorney general’s investigations into Exxon’s role in spreading climate misinformation.
On the subject of climate science itself, Pruitt said in a March 2016 statement with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange that “reasonable minds can disagree about the science behind global warming, and disagree they do.” This statement flies in the face of reality that 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and human-driven.
He and Strange also penned a May 2016 National Review article in which they falsely claim that “scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
Pruitt has run for Oklahoma Attorney General twice and Lt. Governor and state Senator once each. Over the course of those four races, he received more than $250,000 in donations from the oil and gas industry. A 2014 investigation by the New York Times further revealed his close ties with the sector and a concerted effort to push back against regulations related to air quality and clean water.
What he could do: As EPA Administrator, Pruitt would be tasked with running the agency that oversees a host of greenhouse gas and other energy-related rules. Pruitt has already made it clear he does not like the Clean Power Plan and Trump has said he wants to scrap it, which would leave a void in how the federal government plans to address climate change.
“When you look at EPA, there’s going to be substantial change in that agency,” Pruitt said prior to being nominated to lead the agency. “There’s going to be a regulatory rollback.”
Rick Perry, nominee for Secretary of Energy
His views: Perry has long been a climate denier. During his tenure as Texas’ governor, the state Commission on Environmental Quality scrubbed all references of climate change from a sea level rise report.
“I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects,” he said during a 2011 stop in New Hampshire for his failed presidential campaign. “I think we’re seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing our climate to change.”
This could not be further from the truth. The vast majority of the world’s scientists accept that climate change is caused by human carbon pollution.
Perry also advocated getting rid of the agency he’s been nominated to lead (though he infamously couldn’t recall the name of it in a November 2011 debate that hurt his presidential bid).
During his two campaigns for president, three campaigns for governor and one for lieutenant governor in Texas, Perry received $11.4 million from the oil and gas industry, making it the largest industry donor to his campaigns.
What he could do: As Secretary of Energy, Perry would be in charge of 17 national laboratories around the country that do a variety of climate modeling and energy research. That includes the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.
Trump has advocated for a fossil fuel revolution, which could result in cuts to renewable research. His transition team has also sent a survey to Energy Department employees probing their climate-related work. Coupled with Perry’s own disdain for the agency he could run, it’s likely that the Energy Department could see its climate and clean energy-related work curtailed in the coming years.