Donald Trump has not yet been sworn in, but the Republican Congress has convened. Shortly it will begin hearings on Trump's appointments—as a block more like a cabinet suited for a corporatist President Ted Cruz than a populist like candidate Trump.
Trump and the Republicans control the White House and Congress. What they don't control—where they are weak—is the public conversation. Tweets turn out to be a good mechanism for getting headlines but not for creating a story line—and that's our opportunity. The confirmation hearings should be used by concerned Democratic and Republican Senators to hold Trump accountable for delivering on his incoherent smorgasbord of promises. The two key environmental nominees are Rex Tillerson and Scott Pruitt. The media has focused around their opposition to action on climate, Tillerson saying "suck it up and endure climate chaos," Pruitt being a denialist. But it has not yet told the story of their full threat to our environment, our health, our economy and our national security. Below, to start this broader and more troubling dialogue, are ten questions the Senate must ask Tillerson and Pruitt before it votes on whether to confirm them.
Questions for Rex Tillerson, Nominee for Secretary of State
1. Mr. Tillerson, Lee Raymond, your predecessor, made clear that he didn't view ExxonMobil as a U.S. company and didn't "make decisions based on what is good for the U.S." Your have stated that you signed oil leases that undercut U.S. foreign policy in Iraq because "I had to do what was best for my shareholders."
Q: Can you explain where, specifically, the interests of the oil industry might diverge from those of the average American? What advice you would give the president to ensure that the interests of the U.S. prevailed over those of oil companies?
2. Following Russia's invasion of the Ukraine and the seizure of the Crimea, you and ExxonMobil visibly continued to support Russia's development of its off-shore Arctic oil fields. You pursued partnerships with Russian oil interests faced with western sanctions. You clearly aligned with Russia.
Q: Did you believe these actions served the interests of the U.S.? Or were you putting your shareholders first?
3. Russia's has refused to collaborate with international efforts to prevent human rights repression in Syria. This has resulted in the victory of the Assad regime and the butchery of Aleppo. The FBI and the CIA have concluded that Russia actively hacked American political parties in an effort to destabilize our democratic system and perhaps tilt the outcome.
Q: Do you believe it is still in the interests of the U.S. for our oil companies, including ExxonMobil, to provide technical and financial support to assist Russia in becoming a more powerful oil producer? Do you still oppose sanctions against Russia for violating international norms in Syria, the Ukraine and around the U.S. elections?
4. Russia has recently joined with OPEC to artificially rig the oil market. Prices have risen 20 percent as a result. U.S. consumers are again paying more than a fair market price for gasoline and diesel.
Q: What steps would you recommend the U.S. take to discourage Russia from conspiring with OPEC to price-gouge? How would you recommend to the president that he ensure that the price of oil never again soars to $70, $80, $90 even $100 level? In your view, how important to the U.S. are moderate—below $60—oil ?
5. You have repeatedly said that while you believe in climate change, it is not yet possible for the world to move beyond fossil fuels, because alternatives are not ready.
Q: If we continue to rely on petroleum for 90 percent or more of our transportation energy, can you assure Americans that the price of getting around will never again spike to the levels we saw over the last decade? Is getting off oil just a climate issue or is it also an economic necessity? If alternatives are not yet ready, would you urge the U.S. to actively join with other oil importing countries for a Manhattan style project to bring low carbon transportation technologies to full competitiveness within the next four years?