ExxonMobil CEO Chosen for US Secretary of State
Continuing in the mode of choosing people for his cabinet who are not politicians and who have ties to industry, US president-elect, Donald Trump, has chosen ExxonMobil’s chairman and CEO, Rex Tillerson, to serve as Secretary of State – the country’s top diplomatic position, known in other countries as foreign minister.
Trump announced the nomination last week on the heels of week-long speculation that Tillerson had the inside track. Countering criticism that the nominee has no diplomatic experience, Trump said, “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.”
Tillerson, whose “tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics,” Trump said, “make him an excellent choice for secretary of state,” has come under scrutiny not only because of the oil multinational’s long denial of climate change and its engagement in shale gas exploration but because of his corporate ties to Russia, regarded with a certain degree of alarm, due to intelligence reports linking that country and its president, Vladimir Putin, with interference in the US presidential election.
The Russian government honored Tillerson in 2012 with the country’s Order of Friendship decoration for his services to the country.
The oil company chief is on record as having opposed the sanctions. ExxonMobil Exxon – in which the Secretary of State-designate is said to have shareholdings worth more than $200 million – was poised to invest in both the Barents Sea and the Bazhenov shale field in western Siberia but the plans were interrupted by the Congressional decision, which according to some estimates cost the oil major as much as $1 billion,. The company is unable to collect revenue from an investment in an oil and gas consortium that operates off Sakhalin Island or develop other unconventional projects such as the Arctic offshore and shale drilling, some of them agreed just before the door was slammed shut.
Despite his employer’s reputation for being a denier of climate science, criticism of the Tillerson from the environmental side has been more muted than that of the president-elect’s choices to cabinet positions more directly directed to environmental politics – such as the nomination of industry lobbyist Scott Pruitt, the Republican is attorney general of the oil and gas state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA,) and fracking backer and former Texas governor, Rick Perry, to be Secretary of Energy.
Some of the more optimistic observers commenting on the choice of Tillerson have suggested that the new Secretary of State might be able to persuade Trump not to withdraw the US signature from the Paris climate accord as threatened, or he might at least push for inclusion in the agreement of industry-friendly additions such as support for carbon capture and sequestration, along with carbon taxes to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Although Tillerson is said to have soften the radical anti-global warming policies of his predecessor, the anti-poverty group Oxfam America, noted that “under Tillerson’s leadership Exxon has continued to work to undermine climate science.” The company is under investigation in several US states for misleading investors about the value of its stock when some projects might not be able to go ahead due to restrictions aimed at combating climate change.
Some environmental advocacy groups have called for a federal investigation of the topic.
Also likely to come up in US Congressional hearings on Tillerson’s nomination are questions about his possible lack of neutrality in international affairs that bear on ExxonMobil’s geopolitical interests. The future secretary has shareholdings in the company believed to be worth more than $200 million and his pension plan is said to be worth nearly $70 million. This places him in the same league as many other Trump cabinet nominees, whose combined personal net worth is calculated in the billions.