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No, Elon Musk, Exxon CEO won’t be ‘an excellent Sec of State’

In fact, the agency’s senior management just resigned rather than work with Rex Tillerson.

Tesla and Space-X CEO Elon Musk and other business leaders met with Trump at the White House, Monday. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivai.
Tesla and Space-X CEO Elon Musk and other business leaders met with Trump at the White House, Monday. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivai.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, tweeted this week that Rex Tillerson, the recently departed CEO of ExxonMobil and President Trump’s nominee to head the State Department, “has the potential to be an excellent Sec of State.”

The truth is that to be “excellent” Tillerson would have to persuade Trump, who campaigned on killing the landmark Paris climate deal, to reverse himself and agree to even deeper cuts in CO2 emissions (and thus fossil fuels) in the next round of international talks. At the same time, the continued success of the Paris agreement would be devastating to the company Tillerson devoted his entire adult life to.

The State Department’s senior staff appears to disagree with Musk’s assessment, having just resigned en masse, “part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era,” the Washington Post reported Thursday. Departures include:

  • The undersecretary for management
  • The Assistant Secretary for Administration
  • Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs
  • The director of the Office of Foreign Missions
  • Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security
  • The director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations

That “near-complete housecleaning of all the senior officials that deal with managing” the agency looks a lot like a vote of no-confidence by the career foreign service officers who keep the place running.

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It’s more evidence that, contrary to what Musk may believe, the former Exxon CEO is Trump’s worst possible nominee for climate and America.

Tillerson has no qualifications for the job. He’s worked for Exxon his entire professional life, starting at age 23 in 1975. His only “qualification” — negotiating major oil deals with leaders like Vladimir Putin—makes him more embedded in disqualifying conflicts of interest than Trump himself.

Elon Musk has done a great service at Tesla in jump-starting the now unstoppable electric (EV) revolution. But if Musk succeeds — which he must if the world is to have any serious chance of avoiding catastrophe and meeting the Paris target of keeping total warming “well below 2°C” — then Exxon fails.

Even worse, Exxon’s future hinges on restoring a $500 billion oil deal with Putin that Tillerson himself negotiated — a deal which was killed by the U.S. sanctions against Russia put in place by President Obama. Blocking the deal “put Exxon at risk,” as the Wall Street Journal reported in 2014, since its pipeline of projects outside of Russia is weak.

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In December, Trump asked Musk to join his group of outside corporate advisers, making Musk’s desire to find something positive to say about the president’s pro-oil, anti-science cabinet understandable.

But if Tillerson “knows how to win for his team,” can he really be expected to turn his back on the Big Oil team he played for since 1975?

Tillerson’s confirmation hearing showed that he rejected basic climate science. He portrayed himself as a terrible CEO who knew nothing about what was happening at the company he ran. But it’s far more likely that he, like ExxonMobil (and Trump and Putin), is a master of straight-faced disinformation.

Team Trump has already begun erasing or muzzling any reference to climate science anywhere in the executive branch, including the State Department. That’s the team Tillerson is now playing for. And if he’s as much a team player as Musk suggests, then America and the world is in very great danger.