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Trump Taps Exxon's Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Confirms 'Support of Big Oil and Putin'

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Trump Taps Exxon's Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Confirms 'Support of Big Oil and Putin'

Following weeks of speculation, President-elect Donald Trump has officially nominated Rex Tillerson—the longtime leader of world's largest fossil fuel company, ExxonMobil—to be secretary of state.

On the president-elect's favorite mode of communication, Trump tweeted that Tillerson is "one of the truly great business leaders of the world" and likes his "vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments."

The confirmation of Tillerson as the nation's top diplomat, however, will face intense scrutiny not only because the Exxon chairman and CEO has no governmental or diplomatic experience, but also due to his two-decade relationship with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who awarded Tillerson with the Order of Friendship in 2013, one of the highest honors Russia awards to foreigners. As the New York Times reported, Exxon has a partnership with Rosneft, the Russian state oil company. Drilling deals worth tens of billions of dollars in Russia's Arctic can only move forward if American sanctions are lifted.

Tillerson has been critical of sanctions. "We do not support sanctions, generally, because we don't find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensibly, and that's a very hard thing to do," he said at Exxon's annual meeting in 2014. "So we always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who are they really harming."

Trump's latest controversial cabinet choice comes amid news of CIA officials saying they have intelligence showing Russian email hacking to tip the balance of the presidential election in favor of Trump.

Politico Pro also notes that Exxon's interests in Western Canada's oil sands is another potential confirmation roadblock.

According Politico, some of Tillerson's biggest backers have a financial stake a successful confirmation, including James Baker, the George H.W. Bush secretary of state, who is a partner at a law firm that has represented Exxon as well as Rosneft. Former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Sec. Robert Gates, who reportedly recommended Tillerson, work for Exxon through their international consulting firm, Rice Hadley Gates.

Incidentally, with the choice of the Exxon boss, Trump has picked someone who, unlike himself, actually believes in climate change. Exxon's own website clearly acknowledges climate change and announced its support of the Paris climate agreement. Even Tillerson himself said this past October that its risks "are real and require serious action."

But there is no denying that Tillerson's company sells a product that fuels climate change and has spent years and millions of dollars funding climate change denial, even though Exxon corporate documents from the late 1970 stated "there is no doubt" that carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels was a growing "problem." Attorneys general across several states are pursuing a high-profile investigations into what Exxon knew about climate change.

The outcry against Tillerson is unprecedented. Environmental organizations and even Republican senators Marco Rubio and John McCain have voiced concern over Trump's latest controversial nomination.

"I don't know what Mr. Tillerson's relationship with Vladimir Putin was, but I'll tell you it is a matter of concern to me," McCain told Fox News.

Trump's cabinet members and top staff choices have been a circus parade of climate change deniers with clear ties to fossil fuel interests who plan on dismantling the very agencies they will be heading, such as Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is officially Trump's pick for secretary of energy, a federal agency Perry infamously wanted to eliminate but could not name during a Republican presidential primary debate in November 2011.

Perry happens to sit on the corporate board for Energy Transfer Partners which operates the contested Dakota Access Pipeline, which Friends of the Earth Climate and Energy Director Benjamin Schreiber called a "serious conflict of interest that should disqualify him from the job."

Rhea Suh, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also said "the cabinet choices become more absurd every day."

"By nominating Perry, President-elect Trump is continuing to pack his cabinet with allies of big polluters who put profits over people," Suh said. "The American people didn't vote to return to the dirty old days when smog choked our cities. And we didn't vote to turn a blind eye to the dangers of climate change. We oppose Perry and this entire special interest take-over of the American government."

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune similarly expressed dismay over Tillerson and Trump's incoming administration.

"Trump's cabinet represents a who's who of climate-deniers and fossil fuel hacks, so we're shocked but not surprised that he chose the head of one of the world's largest and most environmentally disastrous oil companies to be his ambassador to the world. Tillerson's nomination cements the fact that clean air, clean water, and our climate are public enemy number one in Trump's America," he said.

"ExxonMobil not only deliberately concealed its knowledge of climate change for decades but is responsible for one of the costliest environmental disasters in history," Brune continued. "At a time when the climate crisis is deepening, both the United States and the world deserve much better than having one of the planet's top fossil fuel tycoons run U.S. foreign policy. We urge Senators, who are elected to represent and protect the American people, to stand up for families across the country and the world and oppose this nomination."

Annie Leonard, Greenpeace executive director, said the appointment of Tillerson to be our chief diplomat "is an affront to global progress and will place the US economy, our security, and our standing in the world in the same failing predicament Exxon is in right now. The global community continues to send a strong, collective message that it is ditching fossil fuels for clean energy. Rex Tillerson hid climate science so he could cash in on disaster, instead of transitioning his company to a position of true leadership. This appointment is a desperate grab for power by a failing industry that is perfectly fine bringing the American people down with it.

"Tillerson is beloved by Russian oligarchs and oil magnates. He has used legal action to harass civil society daring enough to attempt to protect itself from existential harm. He has led his company and his industry to double down on an energy source that is literally poisoning the world and making it harder for humans to survive on it. At this moment in time, choosing a man who knows the world through the single frame of the oil and gas industry may actually be more dangerous than picking somebody with no understanding of the world at all," Leonard concluded.

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said that the choice of Tillerson is grim news for essential U.S. leadership in tackling climate change.

"Rex Tillerson and his company are disproportionately responsible for unconscionable backsliding and delay on climate action. A lifelong employee of Exxon, Tillerson has overseen the company's aggressive attack on state Attorneys General who are investigating Exxon's deception regarding climate science. His company is a main sponsor of the false debate that climate change-denying EPA appointee Scott Pruitt and others are using to slow crucial progress," Van Noppen said.

"The sad irony is that by acknowledging the existence of man-made climate change and paying lip service to the Paris global climate agreement, Rex Tillerson may actually appear somewhat responsible in comparison to the rest of the incoming Trump administration—a sign of just how abysmally low the bar has been set by the President-elect and his cabinet," Van Noppen continued.

"By appointing Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Donald Trump is showing Americans and the world that he quite literally intends the interests of large powerful corporations to dominate our country's decision-making—making it all the more important for Americans to fiercely resist the big corporate takeover of our democracy. Earthjustice will be playing its role in the courts and we are proud to stand with strong allies who will be organizing and mobilizing on all fronts."

Stephen Kretzmann, the executive director of Oil Change International, also criticized the nomination.

"Donald Trump made it clear during the campaign that he wants to 'take the oil'—and in Rex Tillerson, he's found his man. Trump has spotlighted what most of the world already knows: U.S. foreign policy is governed by the myopic, perceived need to access and control oil. The honesty and naked truth of the revealed petrostate is actually quite refreshing," Kretzmann said.

"To everyone keeping score at home, you can mark this up as Putin's payback for election intervention. The nomination of Rex Tillerson has revealed with startling clarity that our government is being set up to support the interests of Big Oil and Putin, not the American people or the planet. Now more than ever, we demand a Separation of Oil and State."

Dr. Andrew Steer, the president and CEO of World Resources Institute added, "as the leader of U.S. diplomatic efforts, Rex Tillerson would carry a serious obligation to look out for the interests of all Americans. Climate change is one of the greatest risks facing humanity—and for the sake of our health, economy and security, America must continue to lead on this issue."

"ExxonMobil has long opposed action to slow climate change. While the company has recently acknowledged the human role in climate change and declared support for the Paris Agreement, Tillerson would need to go much further," Steer said. "One of the critical tests at his confirmation hearings must be his demonstration of a true commitment to America's leadership on climate action, including fully supporting the Paris Agreement and honoring the country's international climate commitments. Anything short of that would be unacceptable to the majority of Americans—more than 70 percent of whom support the nation's participation in the Agreement."

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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