Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday morning for his first confirmation hearing as President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of State. Tillerson is one of Trump’s more controversial picks, drawing questions from Republicans about his friendly ties to Russia and ire from environmentalists and Democrats for his relationship to Exxon, the world’s largest oil company.
But Tillerson chose to address just one of those controversies in his opening remarks, addressing his views on foreign policy and Russia while remaining completely silent on Exxon, energy, and climate change.
In Tillerson’s opening statement, which measured 2,155 words, the Exxon CEO mentioned Russia nine times, China nine times, and human rights six times. But he did not once utter the words “climate change,” “energy,” “oil,” or “ExxonMobil,” an omission that several reporters first highlighted on Twitter.
Unlike many of Trump’s other cabinet nominees, Tillerson has publicly voiced his acceptance of the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change, and even advocated for a price on carbon and the Paris climate agreement as head of Exxon. But Tillerson has also spent decades working for a company — reaching the highest level of leadership within that company in the last decade — that has a long history of perpetuating climate misinformation and outright denial, through political spending and funding climate-denying organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the American Enterprise Institute.
The only mention of the consequences of climate change during Tillerson’s opening remarks came from a protester, who stood and shouted that her home and been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, which hit the northeastern coast of the United States in 2012, causing more than $50 billion in damage.
“My home was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, my home was destroyed,” the protester shouted as she was removed from the hearing. “Senators, be brave. Protect my community, protect America. Rex Tillerson, I reject you.”
Scientists have connected the damages of Hurricane Sandy to climate change, especially the increased storm surge caused by sea level rise.
A 2013 study argued that just 90 companies are responsible for the majority of man-made global warming emissions, the same emissions that drive sea level rise and increase the danger of storm surges associated with storms like Hurricane Sandy. According to that study, Exxon is the second-largest emitter of investor-owned companies, responsible for 3.2 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Following Tillerson’s opening remarks, during questioning, two more protesters were also ushered out.
“Protect our children and grandchildren! Please don’t put Exxon in charge of the State Department!” one protester shouted, while another urged senators to “be brave” and “protect the vulnerable” by rejecting Tillerson.