Trump Picks Exxon Mobil’s Tillerson as Secretary of State
Jennifer Jacobs, Nick Wadhams, Ben Brody
Tillerson would be first oil executive in chief diplomatic job
Lawmakers have questioned Tillerson’s relationship with Putin
Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson will be nominated as President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state, setting up a confirmation battle with U.S. lawmakers who have questioned the oilman’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump’s team rallied support for the Tillerson selection with endorsements from two prominent members of the Republican foreign policy establishment: ex-Defense Secretary and CIA Director Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state who had opposed the president-elect during the campaign. Gates noted that Exxon is a client of RiceHadleyGates, the consultancy in which he and Rice are principals, but said they had long known each other.
“He would bring to the position vast knowledge, experience and success in dealing with dozens of governments and leaders in every corner of the world,” Gates, who served both Bush and President Barack Obama, said in a statement.
The lifetime oil executive beat out several high-profile candidates for the job, including Trump loyalist and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who took his name out of the running, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who had also been a Trump critic during the campaign.
“Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none," Trump said in a statement Tuesday.
Trump made the announcement hours after he unexpectedly said he was delaying a planned statement on how he’ll separate himself from his business operations as president, from this week to January. It also came as Trump prepared to name Rick Perry of Texas to be Energy Secretary, putting the former oil-state governor atop the agency that helps chart the nation’s energy future, according to four people familiar with the selection process.
Tillerson said that he will focus on restoring America’s credibility on the international stage.
“We must focus on strengthening our alliances, pursuing shared national interests and enhancing the strength, security and sovereignty of the United States," Tillerson said in the statement.
Tillerson, an Exxon lifer and University of Texas-trained engineer, hits Exxon’s mandatory retirement age of 65 in March. He would be the first oil executive to lead the State Department.
Tillerson would add to a cabinet increasingly full of millionaires and billionaires, including Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, whose fortune is estimated at about $2.9 billion. Tillerson was paid $27.3 million in salary, bonus, stock awards and other compensation in 2015; his 2.6 million shares of Exxon common stock had a value of about $228 million as of early December.
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics says that executive branch employees need to avoid financial conflicts of interest and may be required to sell or place in a trust any assets, such as stock, if a waiver or recusal are not reasonable options.
Word of Tillerson’s possible nomination was circulated even before his Dec. 5 visit to meet the president-elect at Trump Tower partly to see how the markets would react, according to a person familiar with the transition who requested anonymity because the information hasn’t been made public.
The prospect of a Tillerson nomination has already drawn some objections from lawmakers in both parties, who expressed concern about his two decades of dealings with Putin at a time when possible Russian interference in the U.S. election is under scrutiny. That suggests that the Exxon executive could face a messy Senate confirmation fight. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida were among those who said they had questions about Tillerson’s dealings with Putin.
"The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage," Rubio said in a statement Tuesday.
McCain was even more blunt, saying he has “concerns about what kinds of business we do with a butcher, a murderer, a thug, which is exactly what Vladimir Putin is.”
It would take only one Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee joining all of the committee’s Democrats to block a Tillerson nomination in the committee. The nomination could be taken to the Senate floor despite a rejection in the committee, but that would be an unprecedented move for a Cabinet post.
Confirmation hearings may also become a proxy fight over Trump’s position that Putin is an effective leader with whom he can reach agreements, a stance widely unpopular among lawmakers in both parties.
Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday in a statement that he congratulated Tillerson and looked "forward to meeting with him and chairing his confirmation hearing." Corker said in the statement that the committee will hold a hearing on Tillerson’s nomination in early January.
"Mr. Tillerson is a very impressive individual and has an extraordinary working knowledge of the world," said the Tennessee Republican, who had also been in the running for the post.
Russian Hacking Probe
Added to the mix is a looming inquiry into Russian meddling in the election. The Washington Post reported on Friday that the CIA has told senators that Putin’s government was actively seeking to help Trump win the election -- a step beyond an earlier finding that the goal was to undermine the credibility of the U.S. political process.
Obama has ordered a full review of the evidence of Russian hacking. Trump has rejected the idea that Russia has been pinpointed as the source of the hacks of Democratic Party servers.
David Mortlock, a former director of international economic affairs on Obama’s National Security Council, said a Tillerson nomination would extend a trend of the U.S. pursuing “economic statecraft” that began under Hillary Clinton, who Trump defeated in the presidential contest, when she was secretary of state.
“It ironically continues something that really started in the Clinton State Department which is economic statecraft and the fact that U.S. CEOs, U.S. companies have been some of our best diplomats overseas and the U.S. brand is an important part of U.S. diplomacy and U.S. representation,” Mortlock said.
Reince Priebus, who has been named Trump’s chief of staff, said on Fox News Tuesday that Trump chose Tillerson because of his interpersonal skills, his track record in business and a shared vision on international issues.
"At the end of the day, it’s putting America first, and Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson had a connection on that issue," said Priebus, who is currently chairman of the Republican National Committee. "We’re excited about today and what Rex Tillerson is going to bring to the table."
Priebus also said Tillerson’s history with Putin demonstrated toughness.
“The truth is having relationships with people is not a bad thing,” he said. “We have a lot of problems in this world and we’re not going to solve those problems by pretending that people don’t exist.”
Rice, who had criticized Trump, wrote on Facebook Tuesday in support of his nomination of Tillerson.
“He will bring to the post remarkable and broad international experience; a deep understanding of the global economy; and a belief in America’s special role in the world,” Rice wrote. “I know Rex as a successful business man and a patriot. He will represent the interests and the values of the United States with resolve and commitment. And he will lead the exceptional men and women of the State Department with respect and dedication.
Exxon Knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago
A new investigation shows the oil company understood the science before it became a public issue and spent millions to promote misinformation
Exxon was aware of climate change, as early as 1977, 11 years before it became a public issue, according to a recent investigation from InsideClimate News. This knowledge did not prevent the company (now ExxonMobil and the world’s largest oil and gas company) from spending decades refusing to publicly acknowledge climate change and even promoting climate misinformation—an approach many have likened to the lies spread by the tobacco industry regarding the health risks of smoking. Both industries were conscious that their products wouldn’t stay profitable once the world understood the risks, so much so that they used the same consultants to develop strategies on how to communicate with the public.
Experts, however, aren’t terribly surprised. “It’s never been remotely plausible that they did not understand the science,” says Naomi Oreskes, a history of science professor at Harvard University. But as it turns out, Exxon didn’t just understand the science, the company actively engaged with it. In the 1970s and 1980s it employed top scientists to look into the issue and launched its own ambitious research program that empirically sampled carbon dioxide and built rigorous climate models. Exxon even spent more than $1 million on a tanker project that would tackle how much CO2 is absorbed by the oceans. It was one of the biggest scientific questions of the time, meaning that Exxon was truly conducting unprecedented research.
In their eight-month-long investigation, reporters at InsideClimate News interviewed former Exxon employees, scientists and federal officials and analyzed hundreds of pages of internal documents. They found that the company’s knowledge of climate change dates back to July 1977, when its senior scientist James Black delivered a sobering message on the topic. “In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels," Black told Exxon’s management committee. A year later he warned Exxon that doubling CO2 gases in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by two or three degrees—a number that is consistent with the scientific consensus today. He continued to warn that “present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical." In other words, Exxon needed to act.
But ExxonMobil disagrees that any of its early statements were so stark, let alone conclusive at all. “We didn’t reach those conclusions, nor did we try to bury it like they suggest,” ExxonMobil spokesperson Allan Jeffers tells Scientific American. “The thing that shocks me the most is that we’ve been saying this for years, that we have been involved in climate research. These guys go down and pull some documents that we made available publicly in the archives and portray them as some kind of bombshell whistle-blower exposé because of the loaded language and the selective use of materials.”
One thing is certain: in June 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen told a congressional hearing that the planet was already warming, Exxon remained publicly convinced that the science was still controversial. Furthermore, experts agree that Exxon became a leader in campaigns of confusion. By 1989 the company had helped create the Global Climate Coalition (disbanded in 2002) to question the scientific basis for concern about climate change. It also helped to prevent the U.S. from signing the international treaty on climate known as the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 to control greenhouse gases. Exxon’s tactic not only worked on the U.S. but also stopped other countries, such as China and India, from signing the treaty. At that point, “a lot of things unraveled,” Oreskes says.
But experts are still piecing together Exxon’s misconception puzzle. Last summer the Union of Concerned Scientists released a complementary investigation to the one by InsideClimate News, known as the Climate Deception Dossiers (pdf). “We included a memo of a coalition of fossil-fuel companies where they pledge basically to launch a big communications effort to sow doubt,” says union president Kenneth Kimmel. “There’s even a quote in it that says something like ‘Victory will be achieved when the average person is uncertain about climate science.’ So it’s pretty stark.”
Since then, Exxon has spent more than $30 million on think tanks that promote climate denial, according to Greenpeace. Although experts will never be able to quantify the damage Exxon’s misinformation has caused, “one thing for certain is we’ve lost a lot of ground,” Kimmell says. Half of the greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere were released after 1988. “I have to think if the fossil-fuel companies had been upfront about this and had been part of the solution instead of the problem, we would have made a lot of progress [today] instead of doubling our greenhouse gas emissions.”
Experts agree that the damage is huge, which is why they are likening Exxon’s deception to the lies spread by the tobacco industry. “I think there are a lot of parallels,” Kimmell says. Both sowed doubt about the science for their own means, and both worked with the same consultants to help develop a communications strategy. He notes, however, that the two diverge in the type of harm done. Tobacco companies threatened human health, but the oil companies threatened the planet’s health. “It’s a harm that is global in its reach,” Kimmel says.
To prove this, Bob Ward—who on behalf of the U.K.’s Royal Academy sent a letter to Exxon in 2006 claiming its science was “inaccurate and misleading”—thinks a thorough investigation is necessary. “Because frankly the episode with tobacco was probably the most disgraceful episode one could ever imagine,” Ward says. Kimmell agrees. These reasons “really highlight the responsibility that these companies have to come clean, acknowledge this, and work with everyone else to cut out emissions and pay for some of the cost we're going to bear as soon as possible,” Kimmell says.
It doesn’t appear, however, that Kimmell will get his retribution. Jeffers claims the investigation’s finds are “just patently untrue, misleading, and we reject them completely”—words that match Ward’s claims against them nearly a decade ago.
Exxon shifted on climate change under Trump pick
Rex Tillerson oversaw a major shift on climate change as chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. as the nation’s largest oil company accepted the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to a warming planet.
Tillerson, whom President-elect Donald Trump this week tapped to be his secretary of State, took charge as Exxon Mobil's top executive in 2006.
Just a year later, Exxon shifted from its public position of doubting climate change to declaring that there is “no question” that human activity was the source of carbon dioxide emissions contributing to the phenomenon.
“Before and after Rex Tillerson, Exxon had a very different profile, as a company, in the issues related to climate change, and that’s worth noting,” said Sam Adams, the United States director for the World Resources Institute, a nonpartisan group that advocates for international climate action.
Under Tillerson’s predecessor, CEO Lee Raymond, Exxon fought the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and other climate policies, frequently framing climate science as shaky at best.
After Tillerson took over, the company backed a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, implemented an internal accounting measure to put a fee on carbon emissions and stopped funding many groups that outright reject the scientific consensus behind climate change, all major shifts away from its previous positions.
Exxon endorsed last year’s agreement in Paris on global warming.
“The appropriate debate isn’t on whether climate is changing, but rather should be on what we should be doing about it,” then-spokesman Kenneth Cohen said in February 2007, according to Greenwire, in a statement that underlined the company’s shift.
Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said the company's evolution aligned with a landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that “most” of the 20th century's global warming is “very likely” due to the increase in greenhouse gases from human activity.
“Our views have really followed the science,” he said.
Tillerson nonetheless disagrees with environmentalists’ views that fighting climate change means using less fossil fuels. Instead, Exxon looks at solutions like replacing coal with natural gas — which the company produces — and adapting to the effects of a changing world.
“Our plan B has always been grounded in our beliefs around the continued evolution of technology and engineered solutions to address and react to whatever the climate system and its outcomes present to us, whether that be in the form of rises in sea level, which we think you can address through different engineering accommodations along coastal areas, to changing agricultural production due to changes in weather patterns that may or may not be induced by climate change,” he told investors last year.
Exxon Mobil’s stated positions on climate change set it apart from other major United States-based fossil fuel companies and closer to the opinions of big international oil companies like BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil.
Many of the countries in which Tillerson and Exxon Mobil did business have populations that were keen to tackle climate change. A more pro-green outlook was good business for the company.
It’s also unclear whether the positions taken by Exxon Mobil match Tillerson’s personal views.
They could be at odds with the views of Trump, who has repeatedly said climate change is a hoax. He wants to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement as quickly as possible and has forcefully said that a carbon tax is completely out of the question.
Environmentalists don’t buy Exxon Mobil’s shift, and as such don’t appear to believe Tillerson will have a moderating effect on his boss.
Timmons Roberts, an environmental studies professor at Brown University, said that those favoring actions on climate change should not get their hopes up about Tillerson.
“A lot of the hopes that Tillerson would be a moderating force are probably wishful thinking,” he said.
“Tillerson has said good things recently, that it’s real, that something needs to be done about it, that a carbon tax is a good way to address it. But then you look at the actions of Exxon over these years, and they’re extremely worrisome.”
He and other environmentalists say that Exxon Mobil, like its competitors, continued to expand production of fossil fuels under Tillerson. The company still donates millions to politicians fighting climate change policies.
Exxon also has been embroiled over the last year in controversy over its past climate positions.
InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times published reports last year concluding that as early as the 1970s, Exxon Mobil’s scientists knew that greenhouse gases from oil and natural gas caused climate change.
The reports said that despite that knowledge, Exxon Mobil for years tried to sow doubt about global warming, fearing that policies to fight it would hurt its bottom line.
The accusations have spurred condemnation from environmentalists and Democrats and investigations by the Democratic attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts. Exxon Mobil has denied the allegations, saying its positions have always aligned with prevailing science.
“Rex Tillerson hid climate science so it could cash in on disaster, instead of transitioning his company to a position of true leadership,” said Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace.
She criticized Trump’s decision to make the nomination.
“This appointment is a desperate grab for power by a failing industry that is perfectly fine bringing the American people down with it.”
As secretary of State, Tillerson would be responsible for the country’s climate change diplomacy, something that is worrying green groups.
“Handing over U.S. global policy to Big Oil is an epic mistake,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “This industry has been near the center of more conflict than any other in modern time; tapping its chief oilman as the nation’s top diplomat sends the wrong message at home and abroad.”
Tillerson's supporters, including the oil industry, usually cite his Exxon Mobil leadership as a reason that he would be an effective diplomat.
“Rex Tillerson is world class. He has decades of experience working with global leaders and overseeing the creation of thousands of jobs,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute. “He understands that American voters want to strengthen our national security, grow jobs, and protect American interests globally.”
New York Review of Books
The Rockefeller Family Fund Takes on ExxonMobil
David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
Bloomsbury, 355 pp., $18.00 (paper)
Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power
by Steve Coll
Penguin, 685 pp., $19.00 (paper)
Exxon: The Road Not Taken
by Neela Banerjee, John H. Cushman Jr., David Hasemyer, and Lisa Song
InsideClimate News, 88 pp., $5.99 (paper)
What Exxon Knew About the Earth’s Melting Arctic
an article by Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch, and Susanne Rust
Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2015
How Exxon Went from Leader to Skeptic on Climate Change Research
an article by Katie Jennings, Dino Grandoni, and Susanne Rust
Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2015
Big Oil Braced for Global Warming While It Fought Regulations
an article by Amy Lieberman and Susanne Rust
Los Angeles Times, December 31, 2015
Archival Documents on Exxon’s Climate History
Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science
a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, January 2007
A plant owned by Syncrude, a joint venture of ExxonMobil’s Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil, which processes oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta, Canada’s biggest source of carbon emissions and the US’s largest source of imported oil; photograph by Garth Lenz from his traveling exhibition ‘The True Cost of Oil’
In the first part of this article, we described recent reporting that ExxonMobil’s leaders knew humans were altering the world’s climate by burning fossil fuels even while the company was helping to fund and propel the movement denying the reality of climate change.1 Ever since the Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News started publishing articles showing this in late 2015, ExxonMobil has repeatedly accused its critics of “cherry-picking” the evidence, taking its statements out of context, and “giving an incorrect impression about our corporation’s approach to climate change.”2Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is one of several officials who have been investigating whether the company’s failures to disclose the business risks of climate change to its shareholders constituted consumer or securities fraud.
Since ExxonMobil claims that it has been misrepresented, we encourage it to make public all the documents Schneiderman has demanded, so that independent researchers can consider all the facts. In the meantime we suggest that anyone who remains unconvinced by the record we have collected and published of the company’s internal statements confirming the reality of climate change consider its actions, especially its expenditures. Regardless of its campaign to confuse policymakers and the public, Exxon has always kept a clear eye on scientific reality when making business decisions.
In 1980, for example, Exxon paid $400 million for the rights to the Natuna natural gas field in the South China Sea. But company scientists soon realized that the field contained unusually high concentrations of carbon dioxide, and concluded in 1984 that extracting its gas would make it “the world’s largest point source emitter of CO2 [, which] raises concern for the possible incremental impact of Natuna on the CO2 greenhouse problem.” The company left Natuna undeveloped. Exxon’s John Woodward, who wrote an internal report on the field in 1981, told InsideClimate News, “They were being farsighted. They weren’t sure when CO2 controls would be required and how it would affect the economics of the project.”3
This, of course, was a responsible decision. But it indicates the distance between Exxon’s decades of public deception about climate change and its internal findings. So do investments that Exxon and its Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil made in the Arctic. As Ken Croasdale, a senior ice researcher at Imperial, told an engineering conference in 1991, concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were increasing “due to the burning of fossil fuels. Nobody disputes this fact.” Accordingly,
any major development with a life span of say 30–40 years will need to assess the impacts of potential global warming. This is particularly true of Arctic and offshore projects in Canada, where warming will clearly affect sea ice, icebergs, permafrost and sea levels.
Croasdale based these projections on the same climate models that Exxon’s leaders spent the next fifteen years publicly disparaging. But following his warnings that rising seas would threaten buildings on the coast, bigger waves would threaten offshore drilling platforms, and thawing permafrost would threaten pipelines, Exxon began reinforcing its Arctic infrastructure.4
Similarly, as Steve Coll5 wrote in Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (2012), the company’s
investments in skeptics of the scientific consensus coincided with what at least a few of ExxonMobil’s own managers regarded as a hypocritical drive inside the corporation to explore whether climate change might offer new opportunities for oil exploration and profit.
The company tried to use the work of one of its most celebrated earth scientists, Peter Vail, to predict how alterations to the planet’s surface made by the changing climate could help it discover new deposits of oil and gas. “‘So don’t believe for a minute that ExxonMobil doesn’t think climate change is real,’ said a former manager…. ‘They were using climate change as a source of insight into exploration.’”6
Soon after Rex Tillerson replaced Lee Raymond as CEO at the start of 2006, he created a secret task force to reconsider the company’s approach to climate change—“so that it would be more sustainable and less exposed,” according to one participant.7 Tillerson may have been afraid that the company’s aggressive denial campaign had made it vulnerable to lawsuits.8
Under his leadership, as Coll has shown, the company gradually began to change its public position on climate. In 2006 its British subsidiary promised the UK’s Royal Society it would stop funding organizations that were misinforming the public about climate science.9 In 2007 Tillerson stated, “We know the climate is changing, the average temperature of the earth is rising, and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing.” (That was more than Raymond had ever admitted, but Tillerson still wouldn’t acknowledge that fossil fuel combustion caused global warming)10 In January 2009—twelve days before President Obama’s inauguration would situate the company in much less welcoming political territory—Tillerson announced that ExxonMobil had become concerned enough about climate change to support a carbon tax.11
The climate measure then under active discussion in Washington, however, was a cap-and-trade bill. There was almost no political support for a carbon tax at the time, and Tillerson’s announcement may have been meant to divert support from the reform that seemed most plausible.12 Indeed, since then, although ExxonMobil continues to claim that it supports a carbon tax, it has given much more money to members of Congress who oppose such a tax than to those who endorse one.13 As of last year it was still funding organizations that deny global warming or fight policies proposed to address it.14 And at its annual shareholder meetings it still fiercely resists almost all meaningful resolutions on climate change.15
The Securities and Exchange Commission requires companies to disclose known business risks to their investors, and Exxon’s leaders have been acutely conscious of the changing climate’s danger to the oil business for almost forty years. The company didn’t start telling its shareholders about that danger until 2007,16 however, and in our opinion has never disclosed its full scope. To take just one very important example, the valuation of any oil company depends largely on its “booked reserves,” meaning the quantities of buried oil and gas to which it owns the rights.17Ultimately, however, ExxonMobil may not be able to sell most of its booked reserves, because the world’s governments, in trying to prevent catastrophic climate change, may have to adopt policies that make exploiting them economically unfeasible.
In 2013 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) formally endorsed the idea of a global “carbon budget,” estimating that, to keep warming to the two degrees Celsius then considered the largest increase possible without incurring catastrophe, humanity could only burn about 269 billion more tons of fossil fuels.18 (We are currently burning about ten billion tons a year.)19 As of 2009, however, the world had 763 billion tons of proven and economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves.20
If ExxonMobil can sell only a fraction of its booked reserves—if those reserves are “stranded”—then its share price will probably decline substantially. The company has long been familiar with the concept of a carbon budget, but claims to believe it is “highly unlikely” that the world will be able to comply with the IPCC’s recommendation for such a budget. In 2014 it stated, “We are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become ‘stranded.’”21 Because it is a matter of the highest urgency that humanity find a way to adopt the IPCC’s global carbon budget, however, it seems to us that ExxonMobil has been much too sanguine about its business prospects.22 As a Baltimore Sun editorial about the company’s long history of climate deceptions put it, “Surely there ought to be consequences if a for-profit company knowingly tells shareholders patent falsehoods (and then those investors make decisions about their life savings without realizing they’ve been lied to).”23
It is up to government officials, not public interest advocates, to determine whether ExxonMobil’s conduct has violated any state or federal laws within the relevant statutes of limitations. Recognizing this, the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) informed state attorneys general of our concern that ExxonMobil seemed to have failed to disclose to investors the business risks of climate change. We were particularly encouraged by Schneiderman’s interest in this matter, because New York’s Martin Act is arguably the most powerful tool in the nation for investigating possible schemes to defraud.24 If ExxonMobil fully complies with Schneiderman’s subpoena, he will be able to make a thorough review of the company’s disclosures to shareholders on climate change and the history of its internal knowledge. He will then be able to decide whether or not to hold ExxonMobil legally responsible based on all the facts.
No state AG’s office can easily compete with ExxonMobil’s legal resources, however, not even New York’s. Schneiderman has been intrepid so far, but would benefit greatly from cooperation from the AGs of Massachusetts, California, and other states, as well as from the federal government. ExxonMobil has already launched aggressive legal actions against the Virgin Islands, Massachusetts, and New York in response to their investigations, and this may deter others from joining Schneiderman’s efforts.25 Still, we hope that other AGs will recognize how dangerous it is when a corporation can use its wealth to discourage enforcement of possible violations of laws governing securities and consumer protection. If they believe the laws of their states may have been violated, they should initiate investigations of their own.
The RFF has also consulted with other advocates about ways to use what we know about ExxonMobil to educate the public about climate change.26 The company’s suggestion that our communications with governmental officials and like-minded public interest advocates constitutes “conspiracy,” however, is absurd, ignoring the long record American civic associations have of addressing deep societal problems by use of the First Amendment.
ExxonMobil’s success in forestalling any sort of adequate response to climate change for a quarter-century makes it imperative that Congress address this swiftly descending crisis now with all possible force and urgency. If the companies that bear so much responsibility for blocking climate action have broken any laws in the process, we hope they will be held accountable. We also hope, secondarily, to make it difficult for elected officials to accept ExxonMobil’s money and do its bidding.
Texas Congressman Lamar Smith has taken more money in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil, than from any other industry during his congressional career.27 It is not hard to see why companies intent on blocking new climate policies are eager to support him. Last year, for example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published an article in Science refuting the already discredited canard that climate data show no warming over the past two decades.28 In response Smith issued a subpoena to the agency, demanding all its internal e-mails about climate research. An article in US News and World Report observed that Smith’s “brand of oversight may signal a new era for science, one where research itself is subject to political polarization.”29 According to Eddie Bernice Johnson, the ranking minority member of the House Science Committee, Smith has repeatedly called former tobacco industry scientists, consultants, and public relations firms to testify at his committee’s hearings, and has relied on their guidance in previous investigations.30Wired last year called him “Congress’ Chief Climate Denier.”31
Recently, Smith has accused several AGs and environmental organizations, including the Rockefeller Family Fund, of “undermin[ing] the First Amendment of the Constitution.” He has told us at the RFF that “Congress has a duty to protect scientists and researchers from the criminalization of scientific inquiry” and “a responsibility to investigate whether [the state inquiries into ExxonMobil] are having a chilling effect on the free flow of scientific inquiry and debate regarding climate change.”32 As the dean of the Yale Law School wrote in The Washington Post, “It is hard to exaggerate the brazen audacity of this argument.”33 Johnson wrote to Smith that “in a Congress in which the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s oversight powers have been repeatedly abused, this latest action stands apart…. Never in the history of this formerly esteemed Committee has oversight been carried out with such open disregard for truth, fairness, and the rule of law.”34The San Antonio Express-News, Smith’s hometown paper, which had previously endorsed his bids for reelection, declined to do so this year because of his “abuse of his position as chairman” and his “bullying on the issue of climate change.”35
Greenpeace activists preparing to board an ExxonMobil oil rig in Norwegian waters to protest its plans to drill for oil in the Russian Arctic, March 2014
Congressional committees have very limited jurisdiction over state law enforcement officers engaged in the good-faith execution of their duties, and never before has Congress subpoenaed a state attorney general.36 The AGs investigating ExxonMobil are trying to determine whether the company has defrauded shareholders according to the laws of their states.37Fraud, of course, is not protected by the First Amendment, and since the AGs are responsible for prosecuting fraud, they must be free to investigate it.
As for the nonprofit organizations the Science Committee has subpoenaed, including our own, it is obviously not within our power to violate anyone’s First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court has called it “a commonplace that the constitutional guarantee of free speech is a guarantee only against abridgment by government, federal or state.”38 That aside, we have no wish to silence anyone, or to interfere with free scientific inquiry. For the best ideas to prevail, however, people must be allowed to point out instances of inaccurate or dishonest speech. And indeed, by calling attention to the deep, largely orchestrated dishonesty that has characterized the climate denial movement ever since its inception, we are supporting genuine scientific inquiry.
We have tried to reach a reasonable accommodation with the Science Committee. But we do wish to criticize ExxonMobil on moral grounds for its long effort to confuse and deceive the public about climate change. Moreover, we believe that the willingness of some members of Congress to echo and defend ExxonMobil’s obfuscation of established climate science is an inexcusable breach of the public trust. It is our First Amendment right to express these views.
In fact, the Science Committee is doing to the people and organizations it subpoenaed exactly what it accuses us of doing. It is trying to chill the First Amendment rights of those who would petition government, speak freely, and freely associate to advocate for responsible climate policies.39 The legal fees we have incurred because of its demands are bearable for the RFF, but they would be crippling for many smaller organizations. We also face civil or criminal liability if we are held in contempt of Congress because we will not accede to these demands.
More seriously, the committee’s actions now force all organizations that would collaborate with others when taking on powerful special interests to consider that they might be ordered to reveal their strategies to any hostile member of Congress with subpoena power. This is a clear injury to the First Amendment right of association. As the Ninth Circuit wrote in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (2010):
Implicit in the right to associate with others to advance one’s shared political beliefs is the right to exchange ideas and formulate strategy and messages, and to do so in private. Compelling disclosure of internal campaign communications can chill the exercise of these rights.40
Many commentators have noted that the committee is doing the same things to us that it falsely accuses us of doing.41 By accusing us of harming the First Amendment rights of others when it is attacking ours, it is trying to turn what would otherwise be self-evidently outrageous conduct into a dispute. This is not so different from ExxonMobil’s politicized variant of the “Tobacco Strategy”—people will be tempted simply to take the side with which they sympathize ideologically. Meanwhile, the committee is creating a distraction from the real issues, which are what Exxon knew, and when; what it did with its knowledge; and what options humanity has left to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.
Thousands of scientists from around the world contribute to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports, reviewing and synthesizing the published literature on climate science every few years. The summaries for policymakers that encapsulate those reports must then be considered and approved, line by line, by representatives of over 120 different countries.42 Because of the remarkable number of scientists participating in the IPCC’s work, it is generally considered the world’s greatest institutional authority on climate science.43 But because it requires the approval of so many nations, including oil producers like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and because it is subject to political manipulation, as happened when ExxonMobil convinced the Bush administration to have its chairman replaced in 2001,44 the IPCC’s conclusions are generally considered quite conservative.45
Still, the predictions of the IPCC’s latest report, published last year, are dire.46 In this century, disastrous weather events such as storms, droughts, floods, fires, and heat waves will become more common and more severe. Changes to regional weather will have especially serious consequences in places that are already poor, as areas that are semiarid now, for example, become too dry to farm at all. Low-lying islands and coastal cities around the world will be threatened by rising sea levels. In many parts of the world, both the quantity and the quality of fresh water will decline.
For a time, some places will see agricultural productivity increase as the planet warms and rainfall distribution shifts; but others will face shortages of food and the possibility of famine. Globally, total agricultural output is expected to be lower at the end of the century than it is now. The challenge of feeding the world’s people will be exacerbated by declining fisheries as the oceans warm and turn more acidic. Many plant and animal species will become extinct as climatic changes outpace their ability to adapt, others will migrate to new regions, and all of this will have cascading effects on most ecosystems. (For example, the combination of much larger wildfires than we are used to seeing and invasive beetle species may endanger the world’s boreal forests—and if they disappear, they will release vast additional quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.) Old diseases will spread and new ones emerge.
These different effects of climate change will interact with each other in complex ways, some of which may not be predictable now. It seems clear, however, that the poorest parts of the world will become poorer still, and economies everywhere will be threatened. (A 1980 American Petroleum Institute meeting in which Exxon participated concluded that at a “3% per annum growth rate of CO2, a 2.5° C rise [in average global temperature] brings world economic growth to a halt in about 2025.”)47 Conflict over dwindling resources will increase around the world; so, dramatically, will human migration and political instability.
As a group of retired American generals and admirals who studied the national security implications of climate change concluded in 2007:
Economic and environmental conditions in already fragile areas will further erode as food production declines, diseases increase, clean water becomes increasingly scarce, and large populations move in search of resources. Weakened and failing governments, with an already thin margin for survival, foster the conditions for internal conflicts, extremism, and movement toward increased authoritarianism and radical ideologies.
It is true that scientists still disagree about precisely how severe the effects of climate change will be, and when. But, the generals and admirals wrote, “As military leaders, we know we cannot wait for certainty. Failing to act because a warning isn’t precise enough is unacceptable.”48
The world’s governments should have acted decades ago. When the Exxon scientist James Black wrote in 1978 that “the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical” in “five to ten years,” he was right.49 That was humanity’s best chance to start making the transition to a clean energy economy before so much CO2 was released into the atmosphere that a great deal of warming became unavoidable. In our opinion, the reason the world has failed to act for so long is in no small part because the climate denial campaign that Exxon helped devise and lead was so successful.
Just as the tobacco industry gained decades of huge profits by obfuscating the dangers of smoking, the oil industry secured decades of profits—in Exxon’s case, some of the largest profits of any corporation in history—by helping to create a fake controversy over climate science that deceived and victimized many policymakers, as well as much of the public. The bogus science it paid for through front groups, which was then repeated and validated by industry-funded, right-wing think tanks and a too-easily cowed press, worked just as well for ExxonMobil as it had for R.J. Reynolds. A 2004 study by Naomi Oreskes in Science examined 928 peer-reviewed papers on climate science and found that not a single one disputed global warming’s existence or its human cause.50 But according to a recent Yale University study, only 11 percent of Americans understand that there is a scientific consensus on these points.51
The climate deniers succeeded in politicizing a formerly nonpartisan issue and a threat to all humanity.52 In consequence, for decades now, meaningful congressional action to address climate change has been impossible. Without the agreement and leadership of the United States, the world’s largest cumulative emitter of CO2, it has been impossible to achieve a meaningful global accord on climate change. The recently completed Paris agreement on climate, for which the Obama administration fought, will be effective—but only if the world’s nations live up to the commitments they made in it. Although, as a result in part of the actions of ExxonMobil, we have already missed our best chance to prevent a reordering of the world’s ecological balance due to climate change, we can still avoid its worst effects. There is an enormous difference between the new, local disasters that the changing climate is already causing around the world53 and the global catastrophe that will become unavoidable within a few decades unless humanity takes decisive action soon.
—This is the second part of a two-part article.
See “The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon,” The New York Review, December 8, 2016.
See Understanding the #ExxonKnew “controversy”; Paul Barrett and Matthew Philips, “Can ExxonMobil Be Found Liable for Misleading the Public on Climate Change?,” Bloomberg Businessweek, September 7, 2016. The company has argued, among other things, that it is unfair to expect that it could have understood the reality of climate change before the rest of the world’s scientific community. So it would be, if anyone expected that. But by the late 1970s there was a scientific consensus that the earth would begin to warm appreciably within the next few decades because of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuel combustion and by deforestation. Exxon understood and agreed with this scientific consensus as it emerged. It doesn’t seem to have begun seriously trying to create doubt about climate science until the late 1980s.
See Neela Banerjee and Lisa Song, “Exxon’s Business Ambition Collided with Climate Change Under a Distant Sea,” InsideClimate News, October 8, 2015; www.offshore-technology.com/projects/Natuna/.
See Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch, and Susanne Rust, “What Exxon Knew About the Earth’s Melting Arctic,” Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2015. Other big oil companies like Mobil (before it merged with Exxon) and Shell, which also opposed policies meant to reduce the impact of climate change, were similarly “raising the decks of offshore platforms, protecting pipelines from increasing coastal erosion, and designing helipads, pipelines and roads [for] a warming and buckling Arctic.” See Amy Lieberman and Susanne Rust, “Big Oil Braced for Global Warming While It Fought Regulations,” Los Angeles Times, December 31, 2015. We have focused on Exxon in these articles partly because more is known about its record on climate, and partly because it was more aggressive than its competitors in promoting the denial campaign. See Steve Coll, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (Penguin, 2012), pp. 185, 541, 623–624.
Coll is now the dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. As we explained in the first of these articles, it was a team of independent reporters from the Journalism School that published the articles about Exxon in the Los Angeles Times, and our organization, the Rockefeller Family Fund, was the leading funder of this effort.
Coll, Private Empire, pp. 185–186.
Coll, Private Empire, p. 336.
Coll writes, “What distinguished the corporation’s activity during the late 1990s and the first Bush term was the way it crossed into disinformation. Even within ExxonMobil’s K Street office, a haven of lifelong employees devoted to the corporation’s viewpoints and principles, an uneasy recognition gathered among some of the corporation’s lobbyists that some of the climate policy hackers in the ExxonMobil network were out of control and might do shareholders real damage, in ways comparable to the fate of tobacco companies.” (Private Empire, p. 184.)
See 2006 Letter From the Royal Society to Esso UK Limited. In 2007, ExxonMobil also told a group of American environmentalists that it had decided to stop funding the “most controversial” climate denial organizations. (See Coll, Private Empire, pp. 343–346.)
See Coll, Private Empire, p. 347.
See Coll, Private Empire, pp. 534–535.
See Coll, Private Empire, pp. 534–541. Cap-and-trade is a market-based mechanism designed to reduce pollution, in this case greenhouse gases. The Waxman-Markey Bill passed by the US House of Representatives in 2009 set a “cap” that established the total amount of allowable greenhouse gas emissions from certain industries. The cap declined over time until emissions would have been reduced by 80 percent in 2050 from 2005 levels. Under the bill, permits to emit carbon—which, when added together, comprised the cap—were either auctioned or allocated to the states, to historic polluters (e.g., utilities, refineries, cement plants), or for other public purposes. The bill required emitters to obtain and submit a permit for each ton of pollution they produced. No industry was allocated so many permits that it would not need to purchase additional ones. This was intended to create a clear financial incentive to reduce emissions. As the cap declined and the number of allocated permits shrank, the incentive would become even stronger.
By contrast, under a carbon tax regime there is no cap. Instead, typically, the first importer or producer of fossil-based fuel is assessed a tax based on the carbon content of the fuel. Because coal contains the most carbon, it would be charged at the highest rate, followed by oil and then natural gas. The tax would be passed along to consumers, creating a market signal to reduce consumption of the carbon-based fuels.
See Elliott Negin, “ExxonMobil’s Latest Campaign to Stymie Federal Climate Action,” The Huffington Post, August 8, 2016.
See Elliott Negin, “ExxonMobil Is Still Funding Climate Science Denier Groups,” The Huffington Post, July 13, 2016.
See Steven Mufson, “Climate Resolutions Fall Short at ExxonMobil’s Annual Meeting,” The Washington Post, May 25, 2016.
See Lieberman and Rust, “Big Oil Braced for Global Warming.”
See Coll, Private Empire, pp. 51, 57.
See World Sets Record For Fossil Fuel Consumption; Avaneesh Pandey, “Climate Change: 10 Billion Tons of Carbon Are Now Being Released Every Year, The Fastest in 66 Million Years,” International Business Times, March 22, 2016.
See Malte Meinshausen, Nicolai Meinshausen, William Hare, Sarah C. B. Raper, Katja Frieler, Reto Knutti, David J. Frame, and Myles R. Allen, “Greenhouse-Gas Emission Targets for Limiting Global Warming to 2°C,”Nature, April 30, 2009.
See Energy and Carbon — Managing the Risks, pp. 1, 12.
We do not know whether or not ExxonMobil was also being disingenuous in its claims about the likelihood of compliance with the IPCC’s global carbon budget. It is the sort of question that we hope Schneiderman’s investigation will be able to answer.
See “Frosh’s Temperature Rise,” The Baltimore Sun, June 1, 2016.
The Martin Act is New York State’s version of a “blue sky” law, a statute designed to protect the public against the fraudulent sale of securities or other fraudulent schemes. It gives the New York attorney general extremely broad discretion: he may investigate “all deceitful practices contrary to the plain rules of common honesty” and “acts tending to mislead or deceive the public.”
The statute does not require that the state prove intent to defraud. Under the Martin Act the attorney general can pursue civil proceedings, which include injunctive relief or restitution, or criminal actions. Prior to commencement of an action the state may subpoena any documents deemed “relevant or material to the inquiry.” (See Nina Hart, “Moving at a Glacial Pace: What Can State Attorneys General Do About SEC Inattention to Nondisclosure of Financially Material Risks Arising from Climate Change,” Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School, pp. 30–31; Moving at a Glacial Pace: What Can State Attorneys General Do about SEC Inattention to Nondisclosure of Financially Material Risks arising from Climate Change?)
See Exxon Fights MASS Investigation; Memorandum of law in Support of Defendant Attorney General Maura Healey’s Motion to Dismiss; Plaintiff’s Original Petition for Declaratory Relief; Letter to Gregory Hodges, Esq.; Paul Barrett, “Exxon Chooses War in New York’s Probe of Climate Change Research,” Bloomberg Businessweek, October 18, 2016.
In January the RFF hosted a meeting of public interest advocates at our office. One of the participants (not affiliated with the RFF) circulated an e-mail suggesting “examples” of possible “common goals” for the group, including “to establish in [the] public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm,” and “to delegitimize them as a political actor.” Reporters somehow acquired and wrote about this e-mail (see Amy Harder, Devlin Barrett, and Bradley Olson, “Exxon Fires Back at Climate-Change Probe,”The Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2016; Alana Goodman, “Memo Shows Secret Coordination Effort Against ExxonMobil by Climate Activists, Rockefeller Fund,” The Washington Free Beacon, April 14, 2016), and Congressman Lamar Smith has since cited it in his criticism of us. (See Letter, June 17, 2016 to Ms. Faith E. Gay.)
From our perspective, the e-mail contained some rhetorical bravado (though it was never intended for publication, of course), and while we consider Exxon’s actions immoral, we have no particular interest in persuading the public that the company is corrupt. Otherwise, however, we don’t think the e-mail said or suggested anything that is far from the truth.
See Top Industries: Representative John Boehner.
Thomas R. Karl, Anthony Arguez, Boyin Huang, Jay H. Lawrimore, James R. McMahon, Matthew J. Menne, Thomas C. Peterson, Russell S. Vose, and Huai-Min Zhang, “Possible Artifacts of Data Biases in the Recent Global Surface Warming Hiatus,” Science, June 26, 2015.
See Alan Neuhauser, “Lamar Smith is Hot and Bothered About Climate Science,” U.S. News and World Report, November 23, 2015. During the three years of Smith’s chairmanship, the Science, Space, and Technology Committee has issued more subpoenas than in the rest of its fifty-four-year history put together.
See Letter, June 23, 2016.
See Eric Niiler, “Congress’ Chief Climate Denier Lamar Smith and NOAA Are at War,” Wired, November 11, 2015.
See Letter to Faith E. Gay, June 17, 2016.
See Robert Post, “ExxonMobil Is Abusing the First Amendment,” The Washington Post, June 24, 2016. Post was referring to the First Amendment argument made by ExxonMobil’s allies generically, not specifically to Smith.
See Letter, June 23, 2016.
See “Lamar Smith’s Bully Tactics Cross the Line,” San Antonio Express-News, October 17, 2016.
See www.mass.gov/ago/docs/energy-utilities/exxon/ltr-to-congressman-lamar-smith-7-26-16.pdf. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island recently wrote that “the constitutional principle of federalism requires ‘proper respect’ to states’ constitutional functions, and what more proper and inherent state function is there than investigation and prosecution of violations of state law? If the committee is obstructing that state function on behalf of a private party, that raises obvious due process evils of government power unleashed under hidden private control.” (Sheldon Whitehouse, “Standoff Over a House Panel’s Subpoenas Raises Key Issue,” The National Law Journal, August 29, 2016.)
See John Schwartz, “Exxon Mobil Fraud Inquiry Said to Focus More on Future Than Past,” The New York Times, August 19, 2016.
Hudgens v. National Labor Relations Board, 424 US 507, 513 (1976).
We were disturbed to see that in an exchange with our lawyers, Smith cited Barenblatt v. United States (1959)—a decision that seemed to ratify the infamous witch-hunts of the House Un-American Activities Committee—as precedent and justification for his committee’s demand that we turn over our private correspondence. See Letter to Faith E. Gay, June 17, 2016
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 591 F.3d 1147, 1162–63 (9th Cir. 2010).
See, e.g., “House GOP Members Pursue an Objectionable Defense of Fossil Fuels,” Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2016; Sheldon Whitehouse and Elizabeth Warren, “Big Oil’s Master Class in Rigging the System,” The Washington Post, August 9, 2016; Letter to Chairman Smith, September 12, 2016.
The IPCC is a body of the United Nations. Any country that is a member of one of two other UN bodies, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program, is eligible to participate in the IPCC.
See Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (Bloomsbury, 2010), p. 2.
See ExxonMobil Lobbyist Randy Randol 2001 Memorandum to White House on IPCC team; David Hasemyer and John H. Cushman Jr., “Exxon Sowed Doubt About Climate Science for Decades by Stressing Uncertainty,” InsideClimate News, October 22, 2015; Greenpeace, “Denial and Deception: A Chronicle of ExxonMobil’s Efforts to Corrupt the Debate on Global Warming,” May 12, 2002, p. 14.
Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, pp. 204, 206–207.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report, edited by the Core Writing Team, Rajendra K. Pachauri, and Leo Meyer (IPCC, 2015). See especially pp. 56–73. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report.
See CO2 and Climate Task Force.
National Security and the Threat of Climate Change (The CNA Corporation, 2007), pp. 6, 7. The admirals and generals involved in the study were General Gordon R. Sullivan, USA (Ret.), Admiral Frank “Skip” Bowman, USN (Ret.), Lieutenant General Lawrence P. Farrell Jr., USAF (Ret.), Vice Admiral Paul G. Gafney II, USN (Ret.), General Paul J. Kern, USA (Ret.), Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, USN (Ret.), Admiral Donald L. “Don” Pilling, USN (Ret.), Admiral Joseph W. Prueher, USN (Ret.), Vice Admiral Richard H. Truly, USN (Ret.), General Charles F. “Chuck” Wald, USAF (Ret.), and General Anthony C. “Tony” Zinni, USMC (Ret.). The RFF supported this convening of generals and admirals, but needless to say they exercised independent judgment in reaching their conclusions.
See Naomi Oreskes, “Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Science, December 3, 2004.
See Climate Change in the American Mind.
Yale sociologist Justin Farrell told the Los Angeles Times that ideological “polarization around climate change…was manufactured by those whose financial and political interests were most threatened.” See Lieberman and Rust, “Big Oil Braced for Global Warming.” See also Justin Farrell, “Corporate Funding and Ideological Polarization About Climate Change,”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, January 5, 2016.
IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report, pp. 49–51.
Rick Perry Is a Board Member of the Company Behind the Dakota Access Pipeline
The Associated Press
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry spent years perfecting his cowboy swagger — he rarely left home without his signature cowboys boots and even claims to have once used a .380-caliber Ruger pistol to gun down a coyote while jogging. He’s probably best known, though, for the 40 seconds he spent on a 2011 presidential debate stage trying desperately to remember the third of three federal agencies he’d promised to shutter if elected, before sheepishly muttering “Oops.”
The answer was the Energy Department, which President-elect Donald Trump has now tapped Perry to run, according to two people with knowledge of the decision.
But the longest-serving governor in Texas history has less publicized past episodes that could raise political or personal questions when Perry appears before the Senate for confirmation.
Here’s a look at a some of them:
ENERGY FIRM TIES
Perry led Texas for more than 14 years, but mere weeks after he left office he began serving on the corporate boards of two energy firms linked to Texas billionaire and GOP mega-donor Kelcy Warren.
One company, Energy Transfer Partners, is attempting to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.8 billion project carrying oil from North Dakota to Illinois that has sparked protests garnering national attention. The other, Sunoco Logistics Partners, recently announced plans to acquire Energy Transfer Partners in a $21.3 billion deal.
Like Trump, Perry has in the past been a climate change skeptic and cheerleader for coal. In 2005, he issued an executive order fast-tracking construction of coal-fueled power plants around Texas — but those stalled amid legal challenges from environmental groups.
Texas also became a leading wind energy producer under Perry, and the governor’s office used state incentive funds to funnel public dollars to companies promoting alternative energy.
Perry oversaw two state funds meant to encourage job-creating investment in Texas or to lure top employers to the state. But critics accused him of “crony capitalism” after outside auditors condemned both for rewarding firms Perry had business or political ties to — some of which got funding with little transparency or scant evidence they’d actually create jobs.
In 2007, a Perry executive order mandated HPV vaccines for sixth-grade girls statewide, sparking such outcry that the governor was overruled by Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature. Perry said his move was to prevent the spread of a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer — but the vaccine maker, Merck, was a past Perry donor and employed one of his former aides as a lobbyist.
A remote West Texas waste dump site began in 2013 accepting low-level radioactive waste from Texas and other states. The 1,380-acre facility belongs to Waste Control Specialists, then owned by Harold Simmons, a billionaire who was a top donor to Perry and Republicans nationwide but who has since died.
The company has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to begin taking higher level nuclear waste in West Texas as a stopgap measure since a plan for a permanent repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain hasn’t been federally approved. The Energy Department sets policy for nuclear materials’ storage and handling, meaning Perry may make major decisions in an area he’s already very familiar with.
Two years ago, Perry was indicted by a grand jury in Austin on coercion and abuse of power charges stemming from his publicly threatening — then executing — a veto of funding for state public corruption prosecutors. The move came after the investigative unit’s Democratic director rebuffed Perry’s calls to resign following her drunken driving conviction.
Perry dismissed the case as politically motivated, and the coercion charge was tossed on appeal before Texas’ highest criminal court voided the abuse of power charge in February. Still, Perry said it hurt his second White House run in 2015, which lasted barely three months.
While his debate brain freeze was the hardest thing for Perry to live down, there’s more in the former governor’s public career that could resurface if he joins Trump’s Cabinet.
In 2011, The Washington Post reported about a rock outside a hunting camp Perry’s family once leased that was painted with the name “Niggerhead.” Perry’s campaign said the governor’s father painted over the rock — located near Perry’s West Texas childhood home of Paint Creek — soon after he began leasing the site in the early 1980s.
Perry also has drawn past criticism for not denouncing Texas secession forcefully enough. At a 2009 rally, Perry said of his state seceding, “We’ve got a great union,” but added, “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, who knows what might come out of that.”
Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us
· Secret report warns of rioting and nuclear war
· Britain will be 'Siberian' in less than 20 years
· Threat to the world is greater than terrorism
Mark Townsend and Paul Harris in New York
Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters..
A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.
The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.
'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'
The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.
The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.
An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is 'plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately', they conclude. As early as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.
Last week the Bush administration came under heavy fire from a large body of respected scientists who claimed that it cherry-picked science to suit its policy agenda and suppressed studies that it did not like. Jeremy Symons, a former whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that suppression of the report for four months was a further example of the White House trying to bury the threat of climate change.
Senior climatologists, however, believe that their verdicts could prove the catalyst in forcing Bush to accept climate change as a real and happening phenomenon. They also hope it will convince the United States to sign up to global treaties to reduce the rate of climatic change.
A group of eminent UK scientists recently visited the White House to voice their fears over global warming, part of an intensifying drive to get the US to treat the issue seriously. Sources have told The Observer that American officials appeared extremely sensitive about the issue when faced with complaints that America's public stance appeared increasingly out of touch.
One even alleged that the White House had written to complain about some of the comments attributed to Professor Sir David King, Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser, after he branded the President's position on the issue as indefensible.
Among those scientists present at the White House talks were Professor John Schellnhuber, former chief environmental adviser to the German government and head of the UK's leading group of climate scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He said that the Pentagon's internal fears should prove the 'tipping point' in persuading Bush to accept climatic change.
Sir John Houghton, former chief executive of the Meteorological Office - and the first senior figure to liken the threat of climate change to that of terrorism - said: 'If the Pentagon is sending out that sort of message, then this is an important document indeed.'
Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire warnings could no longer be ignored.
'Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It's going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush's single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,' added Watson.
'You've got a President who says global warming is a hoax, and across the Potomac river you've got a Pentagon preparing for climate wars. It's pretty scary when Bush starts to ignore his own government on this issue,' said Rob Gueterbock of Greenpeace.
Already, according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 'catastrophic' shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.
Randall told The Observer that the potential ramifications of rapid climate change would create global chaos. 'This is depressing stuff,' he said. 'It is a national security threat that is unique because there is no enemy to point your guns at and we have no control over the threat.'
Randall added that it was already possibly too late to prevent a disaster happening. 'We don't know exactly where we are in the process. It could start tomorrow and we would not know for another five years,' he said.
'The consequences for some nations of the climate change are unbelievable. It seems obvious that cutting the use of fossil fuels would be worthwhile.'
So dramatic are the report's scenarios, Watson said, that they may prove vital in the US elections. Democratic frontrunner John Kerry is known to accept climate change as a real problem. Scientists disillusioned with Bush's stance are threatening to make sure Kerry uses the Pentagon report in his campaign.
The fact that Marshall is behind its scathing findings will aid Kerry's cause. Marshall, 82, is a Pentagon legend who heads a secretive think-tank dedicated to weighing risks to national security called the Office of Net Assessment. Dubbed 'Yoda' by Pentagon insiders who respect his vast experience, he is credited with being behind the Department of Defence's push on ballistic-missile defence.
Symons, who left the EPA in protest at political interference, said that the suppression of the report was a further instance of the White House trying to bury evidence of climate change. 'It is yet another example of why this government should stop burying its head in the sand on this issue.'
Symons said the Bush administration's close links to high-powered energy and oil companies was vital in understanding why climate change was received sceptically in the Oval Office. 'This administration is ignoring the evidence in order to placate a handful of large energy and oil companies,' he added.
Energy and Environment
Army Corps ruling is a big win for foes of Dakota Access Pipeline
Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson
The Army said Sunday that it will not approve an easement necessary to permit the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, marking a monumental victory for the Native American tribes and thousands of others who have flocked in recent months to protest the oil pipeline.
“I’m happy as heck,” said Everett Iron Eyes, a retired director of natural resources for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and one of the organizers of a camp protesters set up near the pipeline site. “All our prayers have been answered.”
Officials in November had delayed the key decision, saying more discussion was necessary about the proposed crossing, given that it would pass very near the reservation of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose leaders have repeatedly expressed fears that a spill could threaten the water supplies of its people.
“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do,” Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, said in a statement Sunday. “The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”
The decision averts a possible showdown on Monday, the date the Army Corps, which owns land on either side of the lake, had set for cutting off access to the protesters’ camp. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, worried about violence, had sent mediators to the area over the weekend.
The victory for the Standing Rock Sioux and its allies could be short-lived, though. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to support pipelines such as this one. And Kelcy Warren, the chief executive of the pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners, has been a major contributor to the Republican Party and Trump’s campaign.
Trump, who once owned a stake worth between $500,000 and $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners, has sold the shares, his spokeswoman Hope Hicks said. At the time of his most recent disclosure statement in May, Trump owned $100,000 to $250,000 of stock in Phillips 66, which has a 25 percent stake in the Dakota Access project.
Iron Eyes said that “we shall remain vigilant regardless. We have witnessed the power of being peaceful and prayerful.”
What started as a small but fierce protest in a remote spot along the Missouri River months ago has evolved into an epic standoff involving hundreds of tribes, various celebrities and activists from around the country. It has involved heated confrontations — police have sometimes employed water cannons, pepper spray and rubber bullets — and has carried on through the swelter of summer into the snowy cold of winter. Hundreds of veterans arrived in recent days.
On Sunday, news of the Army’s decision triggered a wave of celebration and relief among those who have fought to stop the 1,170-mile-long pipeline’s progress.
A procession of tribe members and activists marched along the main dirt road at the Oceti Sakowin encampment set up by protesters. A crowd numbering in the thousands gathered around the camp’s sacred fire, the hub of activity here, as tribal elders sang prayer songs and beat drums.
Activists acknowledged that it was only one step forward in a larger fight over Native American rights.
Denise McKay, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux standing by the sacred fire Sunday afternoon, said she expects Energy Transfer Partners to push back on the decision.
“It is a temporary victory,” said McKay, 54. “We’ve got to stay put and stay united.” McKay’s daughter, Chelsea Summers, 25, chimed in, saying “everybody is still here for the long haul.”
Nearby, Bruce Gali took drags from a cigarette and watched the festivities. He made his second trip to the camp last week and said he would keep returning from his home in northeastern California until authorities left the area and the pipeline was shut down.
“Until all the razor wire comes down, until the helicopters stop flying overhead, the spotlights turn off, the drill pad is dismantled, this isn’t the end,” said Gali, a 67-year-old member of the Pitt River Tribe. “It’s not just about this pipeline.”
We “commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement. “With this decision we look forward to being able to return home and spend the winter with our families.”
Pipeline spills 176,000 gallons of crude into creek about 150 miles from Dakota Access protest camp
A pipeline leak has spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil into a North Dakota creek roughly two and a half hours from Cannon Ball, where protesters are camped out in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline.
Members of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes, as well as environmentalists from around the country, have fought the pipeline project on the grounds that it crosses beneath a lake that provides drinking water to native Americans. They say the route beneath Lake Oahe puts the water source in jeopardy and would destroy sacred land.
North Dakota officials estimate more than 176,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline into the Ash Coulee Creek. State environmental scientist Bill Suess says a landowner discovered the spill on Dec. 5 near the city of Belfield, which is roughly 150 miles from the epicenter of the Dakota Access pipeline protest camps.
The leak was contained within hours of the its discovery, Wendy Owen, a spokeswoman for Casper, Wyoming-based True Cos., which operates the Belle Fourche pipeline, told CNBC.
It's not yet clear why electronic monitoring equipment didn't detect the leak, Owen told the Asssociated Press.
Owen said the pipeline was shut down immediately after the leak was discovered. The pipeline is buried on a hill near Ash Coulee creek, and the "hillside sloughed," which may have ruptured the line, she said.
"That is our number one theory, but nothing is definitive," Owen said. "We have several working theories and the investigation is ongoing."
Last week, the Army Corp of Engineers said it would deny Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners the easement it needs to complete the final stretch of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline. United States Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy said the best path forward was to explore alternative routes for the pipeline, something Energy Transfer Partners says it will not do.
Energy Transfer Partners says the Dakota Access pipeline would include safeguards such as leak detection equipment and that workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close valves within three minutes if a breach is detected.
Republican President-elect Donald Trump has voiced support for the Dakota Access Pipeline. About 5,000 people are still occupying land near the planned construction site.
The 6-inch steel Belle Fourche pipeline is mostly underground but was built above ground where it crosses Ash Coulee Creek, Suess said. Owen said the pipeline was built in the 1980s and is used to gather oil from nearby oil wells to a collection point.
Suess said the spill migrated almost 6 miles from the spill site along Ash Coulee Creek, and it fouled an unknown amount of private and U.S. Forest Service land along the waterway. The creek feeds into the Little Missouri River, but Seuss said it appears no oil got that far and that no drinking water sources were threatened. The creek was free-flowing when the spill occurred but has since frozen over.
About 60 workers were on site Monday, and crews have been averaging about 100 yards daily in their cleanup efforts, he said. Some of the oil remains trapped beneath the frozen creek.
Suess says about 37,000 gallons of oil have been recovered.
"It's going to take some time," Suess said of the cleanup. "Obviously there will be some component of the cleanup that will go toward spring."
True Cos. has a history of oil field–related spills in North Dakota and Montana, including a January 2015 pipeline break into the Yellowstone River. The 32,000-gallon spill temporarily shut down water supplies in the downstream community of Glendive, Montana, after oil was detected in the city's water treatment system.
True Cos. operates at least three pipeline companies with a combined 1,648 miles of line in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, according to information the companies submitted to federal regulators. Since 2006, the companies have reported 36 spills totaling 320,000 gallons of petroleum products, most of which was never recovered.