Sorry, media, Exxon CEO is Trump’s worst possible nominee for climate and America

Rex Tillerson is director of a US-Russian oil company. He made Exxon beholden to Putin and climate destruction.


Some in the media would have you believe Secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson “is the most pro-climate Trump nominee.” Politico says his “record at Exxon shows a tough pragmatist,” mostly because of “his deft positioning on global warming.” Not and not.

Memo to media: Stop repeating Tillerson’s greenwashing “positioning” and start reporting on his and Exxon’s actions — and the company’s long, long history of lying about the climate.

Three essential facts have been missed or downplayed by the mainstream media:

  1. The lies of ExxonMobil are unique in the annals of climate and corporate history (see here and below).
  2. ExxonMobil is the only major fossil fuel company whose future is inextricably tied to Putin, to ending sanctions on Russia that “put Exxon at risk” (to quote the Wall Street Journal), and to continued, warming-driven melt of Arctic ice.
  3. Tillerson personally negotiated with Putin a monster $500 billion deal for Arctic drilling that was “expected to change the historical trajectory of Russia,” before sanctions killed the deal. His rise as Exxon’s ‘Russia czar’ coincides with Putin’s own rise as the leader of Russia. Tillerson is so wedded to Putin, the Guardian just reported, that he “is the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas”!
Russia’s $500 billion oil deal with Exxon was killed by U.S. sanctions. CREDIT: Wall Street Journal, 9/11/2014.
Russia’s $500 billion oil deal with Exxon was killed by U.S. sanctions. CREDIT: Wall Street Journal, 9/11/2014.

For these reasons, ClimateProgress cannot expose the lies of Exxon and its CEO too many times, nor can any progressive or parent fight Tillerson’s nomination to be secretary of state too hard. “Rex Tillerson is a pioneer of the post-election Donald Trump climate-change head fake,” to quote Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, “which is to say one thing and to do the complete opposite.”

Tillerson has no qualifications to be secretary of state. He’s worked for ExxonMobil his entire professional life, starting at age 23 in 1975. His only “qualification” — that he negotiated major oil deals with Putin’s Russia and other countries — makes him more deeply embedded in disqualifying conflicts of interest than Trump himself.

Let’s quickly run through Tillerson’s bio to see just how alarming these conflicts are, and just how huge the company’s lies have been during his tenure:

The lies of ExxonMobil are unique in the annals of climate history. First, Exxon has known its product posed a serious threat to a livable climate for a half century. And like any morally bankrupt, mustache-twirling, corporate villain, the company decided to become the biggest funder of false information on climate science and climate solutions, rather than warning the nation about this potentially catastrophic — but quite preventable — threat to humanity.

Since 1997, Exxon has spent more than $30 million funding dozens of groups that spread misinformation about climate science and solutions. Tillerson himself held senior executive positions at the company since 1999, becoming senior vice president of the whole corporation in 2001. He was then elected president and a member of the board in March 2004, and finally became CEO on January 1, 2006.

Not only has Tillerson led Exxon during its misinformation binge, he was in charge during one of its biggest lies. In its Orwellian-titled “2007 Corporate Citizenship Report,” Exxon asserted, “In 2008, we will discontinue contributions to several public policy research groups whose positions on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.

Despite that promise, Exxon never stopped funding such groups. Those were just vague, oily words — slippery and slick — designed to mislead the public and the media. Last year alone, Tillerson’s company gave more than $860,000 to such science-denying groups as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), American Enterprise Institute, National Black Chamber of Commerce, and Manhattan Institute of Policy Research. And let’s not forget the $5,000,000 Tillerson gave to the anti-science U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 2014–2018.

Ignoring Tillerson’s pattern of funding liars and overseeing Exxon’s own lies, the media wants us to believe that Tillerson might actually support a carbon tax, a position he advanced in 2009. That was, no doubt, positioning — a pushback against the Congressional cap-and-trade bill. After all, Exxon never stopped supporting members of Congress (and countless conservative groups) dedicated to making sure a carbon tax never happened.

Similarly, because “Exxon Mobil tweeted a declaration of support for the Paris deal” (by 200 nations to limit carbon pollution and global warming) right after Trump’s election, the AP wants you to believe Tillerson supports a deal in which the major nations of the world unanimously agreed to leave most fossil fuels in the ground.

If Tillerson actually supported the historic Paris Agreement, as he has asserted, then why is Exxon almost exclusively backing politicians who oppose domestic and international climate action? Why is Exxon still spreading misinformation that it knows to be lies? Why is Exxon placing massive bets on the most difficult and carbon intensive petrol to develop: the tar sands and Arctic oil?

That brings us back to Tillerson and Exxon’s marriage to Putin and Russia.

In January 1998, Tillerson “became vice president of Exxon Ventures (CIS) Inc. and president of Exxon Neftegas Limited,” Exxon’s website explains. “In those roles, he was responsible for Exxon’s holdings in Russia” — both on land and offshore. Coincidentally, Tillerson’s position change occurred around the same time that former KGB agent Vladimir Putin began assuming more and more power, becoming Russian Prime Minister in 1999.

Coincidentally, again, leaked 2001 documents show that Tillerson is “the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas,” as the UK Guardian reports. More recently in 2013, Putin gave Tillerson the highest award a foreigner can receive— the Order of Friendship — for negotiating a $500 billion deal with Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned (i.e. Putin-controlled) oil company.

That deal — to exploit difficult-to-drill Arctic oil reserves — is crucial to the future of both Russia and Exxon. Maybe it’s just another coincidence that this half-trillion dollar deal can only go forward if the sanctions are ended and US intelligence agencies agree that Putin intervened in the US election to help elect Trump. And maybe it’s just a coincidence that shortly after the election, Putin was able to pocket $11 billion from Qatar and others from selling off 19.5% of Rosneft, “confounding expectations that the Kremlin’s standoff with the West would scare off major investors,” as Fortune reported.

Another coincidence is the fact that Condoleezza Rice and Bob Gates led the way in bringing Tillerson to Trump’s attention as a potential secretary of state nominee — and that their firm consults for Exxon.

The fact that continued global warming and melting of polar ice would make it far easier to drill in the brutal offshore conditions of the Russian Arctic is no doubt just another coincidence, as is the fact that Russia has surprised some observers by not yet ratifying the Paris deal.

As I’ve written, imagine how much havoc Putin, Trump, and Tillerson could wreak on future negotiations by coercing other countries to avoid new pledges to ratchet down their emissions, which is the cornerstone of Paris’ strategy to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Lee Raymond, Tillerson’s predecessor at Exxon, once explained: “I’m not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.”

So, if you think Tillerson is the least-bad choice for the climate and for your children, I’ve got some fake news I’d love to sell you….