#ExxonKnew Activists Try to Make Themselves Relevant by Attacking Sec. of State Nominee
Following the news earlier this morning that the president-elect has decided to nominate ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson to be our next Secretary of State, #ExxonKnew activists have been churning out a steady stream of misinformation focused on defaming both the company and the secretary-designate – all with an eye on trying to insinuate themselves into a broader national discussion, into which they’d otherwise have no point of entry.
Given all that, we thought we’d take a second to tackle just a few of issues and accusations they continue to throw against the wall:
Charge #1: He got an award from Russia!
There has been a lot of interest in the Russian government’s decision to award the “Order of Friendship” to Tillerson in 2014. But let’s take a quick look at some of the other folks who have received this honorific over the years, including a few who will be quite familiar to environmental activists.
Let’s start with Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations (the body that runs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) who is perhaps the most notable recipient of the award. As the UN leader, Ban Ki-Moon has been spearheading international climate efforts since the 2010 climate conference in Cancun. He most recently headed up the UN Climate Summit in New York, ahead of 2015 Paris climate change conference.
Then there’s Jean Chretien, the former Prime Minister of Canada, who ratified the Kyoto Protocol. There’s also the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who has forcefully lobbied in favor of international climate treaties and wrote a 2014 op-ed titled “The rich West is ruining our planet.”
Outside the world of environmental politics, other recipients of the Order of Friendship include entrepreneur Patricia Cloherty, whose extensive resume includes working for presidents of both parties, and holding a host of board positions at institutions including the Columbia University Teachers College, Rockefeller University Council, and being a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2014, she was honored by the New York State Assembly for her contributions to the arts, and she also happens to be a major donor to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats.
Charge #2: He opposes sanctions against Russia!
There seems to be a bit of confusion on this point as well, with lots of press outlets suggesting that Tillerson and Exxon vehemently opposed the United States’ decision to impose sectoral sanctions on Russia in 2014. But that’s not true either.
What the company said it opposed, based on statements it made at the time, were sanctions that weren’t applied in a uniform manner – especially ones that would represent a bad deal for U.S. companies relative to policies put in place by the EU established for European companies.
In this case, the sanctions that were imposed by the EU in 2014 contained a provision that allowed agreements previously signed between European companies and Russia to remain in place, essentially banning new contracts from being signed. In contrast, the U.S. sanctions not only banned future agreements, but also included a provision to retrospectively cancel ones that had already been inked.
The upshot? While American companies were prevented from doing business in the deepwater and shale-related oil and gas spaces, companies based in Europe, South America and Asia didn’t skip a beat – and were more than happy to commence development activities literally adjacent to the areas where U.S. companies held leases.
By the way, Tillerson isn’t the only one who has expressed concerns about unilateral sanctions – many prominent Democrats have as well. In 2001 Vice President Joe Biden said sanctions against India would be “ineffectual” and went on to note, “The history of unilateral sanctions is hardly encouraging.”
FactCheck.org reported in 2013 that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said he “opposed unilateral U.S. sanctions, but he has voiced support for multilateral sanctions, such as those imposed by the United Nations.”
Even President Obama originally agreed that multilateral, rather than unilateral, efforts were the way to go. As a December 2011 New York Times piece explained,
“Mr. Obama made much of his commitment to a multilateral foreign policy, in contrast to President George W. Bush’s unilateral invasion of Iraq. That, his advisers say, grew out of a conviction the United States needed to work with others and forge consensus to restore its moral standing.” (emphasis added)
A July 2012 fact sheet focused on “rallying the international community” and touted,
“With President Obama’s leadership, the United States gained the support of Russia, China, and other nations to pass United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 in June 2010, which created the most comprehensive and stinging international sanctions the Iranian regime has ever faced.”
Obama clearly stated in May 2014,
“It has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side,” Obama said. “This is American leadership. This is American strength.” (emphasis added)
This multilateral approach to “rallying the international community” stands in stark contrast to the policy currently being considered by the White House.
However, unilateral or not, smart or not, ExxonMobil has followed both the letter and the spirit of the law when it comes to Russian sanctions. As Exxon Mobil spokesman Alan Jeffers put it, “We follow the law. If a law says that a U.S. corporation is not allowed to participate in activities in a particular jurisdiction, that’s what we do.”
Charge #3: He doesn’t believe in climate change!
With their campaign floundering and failing to receive any real coverage, #ExxonKnew activists have tried to paint Tillerson a climate foe – or when they’re feeling more charitable, “the best of many evils for Paris deal.”
Tillerson has been very clear that he supports action on climate. As Financial Times reported, Tillerson said in an October speech in London,
“We share the view that the risks of climate change are real and require serious action,” he said, adding that Exxon had long supported a tax on carbon in preference to the current “hodgepodge” of regulations around the world.
Tillerson and ExxonMobil have long backed the Paris climate deal. ExxonMobil called it “an important step forward by world governments in addressing the serious risk of climate change.” ExxonMobil has supported a carbon tax since 2009 calling it the best, least complex and most balanced approach toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the past year #ExxonKnew activists have tried their best to push the argument that ExxonMobil somehow knew about climate change in the 1970s and 1980s but kept those findings secret. The allegations have been completely debunked given the fact that the company’s research has been in the public domain for decades.
ExxonMobil has been invested heavily in climate research for over 30 years and the company’s scientists have produced more than 50 peer reviewed papers spanning from the 1983 to 2014. Scientists from ExxonMobil have been involved with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) science since its inception, even contributing five different sections to its Third Assessment Report. Some of ExxonMobil’s other important efforts include working with MIT on climate modeling, developing lower-emission solutions alongside researchers at Stanford University, and working with the U.S. Department of Energy and many others on a number of climate projects. All of this research is either online or in libraries, and fully accessible to the public.
As EID’s video clearly shows, the articles by InsideClimate News and the Columbia School of Journalism, which tried to push this #ExxonKnew argument, cherry-picked some facts, and ignored others, to produce a completely distorted view of the company’s work on climate change.
Charge #4: He has all these conflicts of interest!
Some commentators are worried that Tillerson’s appointment to the nation’s top diplomatic post would pose a conflict of interest, as many of his actions as Secretary of State could have a direct impact on Exxon. But Tillerson isn’t the first wealthy American to be appointed to a cabinet-level position and there are plenty of well-established procedures in place for avoiding these conflicts.
Robert Rubin, President Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary from 1995-1999, spent 26 years at Goldman Sachs, accruing a net worth of roughly $100 million. According to the New York Times, “When he entered Government service in early 1993, Mr. Rubin put his assets, most of which consisted of partnership shares in Goldman, into a blind trust.” This removed any potential conflict of interest, as the owner of a blind trust does not know how their assets are managed and distributed.
George W. Bush’s final Treasury Sectary, Henry Paulsen, had previously served as the Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, amassing over $700 million by the time he was appointed Treasury Secretary. He divested about $500 million worth of Goldman Sachs stock in order to avoid any conflicts.
More recently, President Obama’s current Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker, is the heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune. She’s worth about $2.5 billion and owns nearly 8 percent of Hyatt’s stock. To secure her confirmation, Pritzker promised to resign from Hyatt, though she was able to keep her Hyatt stock.
Tillerson is said to own 2.6 million shares of ExxonMobil stock and he may have to divest that stock before being sworn in. But the point is there is precedent for all this.
Charge #5: He faces “uphill battle” for folks’ approval!
Tillerson has received wide, bipartisan support. In fact, one of the leaked emails from the Clinton campaign shows that the Clinton Foundation had high praise for Tillerson’s education advocacy and considered asking him to speak at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative plenary sessions. From the leaked memo:
“Tillerson chairs the Business Roundtable’s Education group and has been prominently supportive of some of Duncan’s chief priorities, including teacher training, STEM education, and workforce development. As CEO, he has led major investments in education across the country, especially in educating girls.”
Support for Tillerson among unions is also notable. North America’s Building Trades Unions put out a press release noting,
“For almost a decade, North America’s Building Trades Unions have had the opportunity to work closely with Rex Tillerson in his current capacity as the Chief Executive Officer of Exxon Mobil. During that time working directly with him, and also in conjunction with the Oil & Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee, Mr. Tillerson demonstrated a strong intellect, a resilient and dynamic grasp of both global and domestic policy issues, and a deep and unyielding sense of patriotism for our great nation.
“Rex Tillerson has successfully shepherded Exxon Mobil through very tumultuous times in terms of global geo-politics. With his intellect, his wit, and his deep understanding and knowledge of the world as it exists today, we believe he will be a tremendous success as Secretary of State, and we offer our full support for his confirmation.”
The United Nations Foundation praised Tillerson for his commitment to their goals of reducing disease and increasing opportunities for girls and women:
“The United Nations Foundation looks forward to working with Rex Tillerson, if confirmed, to advance strong leadership at the United Nations to further our principles as Americans and tackle global challenges…In 2011, the UN Foundation recognized Rex Tillerson for ExxonMobil’s commitment to help meet the UN’s goals of substantially reducing deaths from malaria and increasing economic opportunities for girls and women. These efforts are examples of the positive effects that multinational corporations can have when they align their business interests with global development priorities.”
David Goldwyn, the State Department’s top energy diplomat under President Barack Obama, noted Tillerson’s climate credentials saying,
“If there is a chance of having a rational voice at the table on Paris, on climate, on investing in innovation and keeping the United States at the front of … clean energy technology innovation and not taking us out of the conversation, I think we have a good chance that Mr. Tillerson would be a rational voice in that conversation.”
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said,
“Rex Tillerson is an excellent choice for Secretary of State. 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.
“I know Rex as a successful business man and a patriot. He will represent the interests and the values of the Unites States with resolve and commitment. And he will lead the exceptional men and women of the State Department with respect and dedication. I look forward to supporting Rex through the confirmation process and then welcoming him to the family of Secretaries of State.”
Robert Gates, Former Secretary of Defense praised Tillerson saying,
“I strongly endorse the President-Elect’s selection of Rex Tillerson to be the next Secretary of State. He would bring to the position a vast knowledge, experience and success in dealing with dozens of governments and leaders in every corner of the world. He is a person of great integrity whose only goal in office would be to protect and advance the interests of the United States. While ExxonMobil is one of many clients of RiceHadleyGates Consulting, I met Rex years earlier through our mutual involvement in and leadership of the Boy Scouts of America. I know this Eagle Scout will be a global champion of the best values of our country.”
Former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, said,
“Rex Tillerson, who is a friend of mine, is an excellent choice to head the State Department and has an opportunity to be a very effective Secretary of State. As CEO head of one of the world’s largest and best-run companies, has demonstrated the management and negotiating skills, and has the international experience, that are required for the job. Further, I am confident he will understand the global challenges facing the United States and has the intellect to address them. I first expressed my support for Tillerson’s nomination to members of President-Elect Donald Trump’s transition team on Monday afternoon, Dec. 12, when they reached out to me about the possibility of a Tillerson nomination.”
These are just a few in a long list of bipartisan endorsements.