Over the weekend, news reports began to circulate saying President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Tillerson has served as CEO and chair of Exxon since 2006. Environmental groups have widely condemned the potential nomination. Exxon is facing multiple lawsuits over its role in covering up the science behind climate change. Tillerson is also known to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Wall Street Journal reports Tillerson “has known Putin since he represented Exxon’s interests in Russia during the regime of Boris Yeltsin.” In 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the country’s Order of Friendship decoration. For more, we speak with Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth USA; Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law; and Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Tillerson has served as CEO and chair of Exxon since 2006.
Environmental groups have widely condemned the potential nomination. Exxon is facing multiple lawsuits over its role in covering up the science behind climate change. In 2015, InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed ExxonMobil’s own research had confirmed the role of fossil fuels in global warming decades ago. By 1977, Exxon’s senior experts had begun to warn the burning of fossil fuels could pose a threat to humanity. Exxon initially launched an ambitious research program to study carbon dioxide in the air and ocean. But toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon changed course and shifted to the forefront of climate change denial. Since the 1990s, it’s spent millions of dollars funding efforts to reject the science its own experts knew of decades ago.
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is also known to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Wall Street Journal reports Tillerson “has known Putin since he represented Exxon’s interests in Russia during the regime of Boris Yeltsin.” In 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the country’s Order of Friendship decoration.
To talk more about Rex Tillerson, we’re joined by three guests. In Washington, DC, Erich Pica is with us. He is president of Friends of the Earth USA. Here in New York, Carroll Muffett is with us, president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, personally subpoenaed by Exxon in a case in Texas seeking to stop an investigation into Exxon’s activities led by the Massachusetts attorney general. Ten other individuals and organizations have also been subpoenaed. And we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. In 2014, Bill McKibben was awarded the Right Livelihood prize, sometimes called the “Alternative Nobel,” for his work in environmental activism, author of a number of books, including Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! We’re going to begin today with Carroll. Talk about your response to hearing that Rex Tillerson, the current CEO of ExxonMobil, might be the secretary of state.
CARROLL MUFFETT: I’ll say that when the news first came out, I assumed it was a grim practical joke. As it became more real, our response is that it is irresponsible, and it’s unconscionable. It poses a threat not only to the planet, but to human rights. To put — to put the CEO of Exxon in charge of our negotiations on climate change, our negotiations on oil, on energy, on human rights, with countries around the world where this company has interests, where it has a track record of abuses, is patently irresponsible.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, what is your personal involvement here? Why was — why were you subpoenaed?
CARROLL MUFFETT: You would have to ask Exxon that. Our best guess is that Exxon subpoenaed me because of the work that my organization, the Center for International Environmental Law, has done to expose Exxon’s history of climate research and its history of climate denial. Our research, published last summer, demonstrated that Exxon and its oil industry allies were actually doing climate research as early as 1957 and that they had been warned by no later than 1968 that fossil fuels were directly linked to climate change.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what do you have to do?
CARROLL MUFFETT: We have filed objections to the subpoena, noting that the subpoena is nothing more than a fishing expedition, that I’m not a party to the case, and that if you look at the subpoena that Exxon has filed, it’s clear that it goes far beyond any issues in the case and is a clear effort to intimidate and suppress those who have criticized the company.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s interesting, because at the same time — and I want to ask Erich Pica this question, of Friends of the Earth — you have this questionnaire, Donald Trump’s transition team circulating a 74-part questionnaire at the Department of Energy that requests the names of employees who have attended climate talks over the last five years. From these subpoenas to a kind of — well, would you call it an enemies list?
ERICH PICA: Absolutely. I mean, this dates back to the red-baiting and McCarthyism. This is like — you know, the head of the transition team, Myron Ebell, who is head of the energy and climate transition team, he’s with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He’s been a funded ExxonMobil climate denier, and now he’s using that position to go out and find the climate change enemies list in the Department of Energy — and who knows how far it’s going to go into the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA? All these agencies that have something to do with climate change, you see both the appointees, the proposed appointees, as well as the transition team trying to undermine the trust, undermine the capacity of these civil servants, who are doing really good work on behalf of the American people, undermining their capacity to address what is scientifically proven and what they were doing on behalf of the Obama administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s back up, and let me get your reaction, Erich Pica, to the possible nomination. Donald Trump is not denying that he is his first pick but hasn’t actually made that choice yet, maybe kind of floating this to see how people respond to Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson being nominated as secretary of state.
ERICH PICA: I would say I agree with Carroll. At first I thought it was a joke. And then, you know, in thinking about it, Rex Tillerson should be indicted for corporate fraud and for lying to the American public, lying to the world, lying to their shareholders. And so, he should be strung up, and the company should be strung up, in the court of law for fraud. And instead, he’s being rewarded by President-elect Trump with perhaps one of the most important Cabinet picks in the US government, the State Department, the head of the State Department. So it is kind of this interesting and weird Bizarro world that we’re now living in underneath — underneath Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, we’re reaching you at your home in Vermont. Has the snowstorm hit yet?
BILL McKIBBEN: No, just a little snowstorm this morning. It is beautiful, I must say.
AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about your thoughts when you heard that the Exxon CEO might be named secretary of state — or nominated? It will go — have to go to Congress.
BILL McKIBBEN: Yes, it will. And I think that there will be some opposition, actually, in Congress and across the aisle, perhaps, because not only has Mr. Tillerson been actively engaged in trying to slow progress on climate change, he also — and the reporting on this is emerging kind of even as we speak — he and his company are deeply embedded in the Russian oil business and is going to — I mean, conflict of interest doesn’t begin to cover the questions that are being raised by good reporters this morning.
I will say, I was perhaps a little less surprised than Erich and Carroll by all of this. I think that what’s going on is that the Trump administration has decided to drop all pretense. They are fully engaged in full-on climate denial, and they are fully clients of the fossil fuel industry. You know, for a very long time, the fossil fuel industry has wielded undue power in our political affairs, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. You’ll recall that it was Dick Cheney, who had been helping run Halliburton, the oil service company, that dominated the George W. Bush administration. But in this case, they have literally decided to cut out the middleman. And now, the world’s biggest fossil fuel company and, in many of the most recent years, the most profitable company on Earth, the biggest company the world has ever seen, is just basically going to be in charge of things.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it reminded me, back in 1953 and 1954, what happened when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who was a white-collar lawyer representing United Fruit. First, in 1953, the US — and this is all documented now — overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, on behalf of Anglo-Iranian Oil, the precursor to BP, and, the next year, moved in on Guatemala. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had represented United Fruit at his corporate law firm and, on behalf of United Fruit, overthrew the democratically elected government of Guatemala. Your thoughts, Bill McKibben?
BILL McKIBBEN: I think that it’s a perfectly good analogy. But the only difference and the only thing that makes it grimmer here is that the damage that we’re talking about is going to be permanent. We’re at an absolute critical moment in dealing with climate change. The world had begun to get a tiny — not enormous, but a tiny bit of momentum going in the right direction. And clearly, the goal of the Trump administration is to stomp on that momentum. The president said — president-elect said yesterday that no one can really know whether climate change is real or not. That, of course, is absurd. Every climatologist knows that it’s real, and, increasingly, billions of people around the Earth know that it’s real, because they’re feeling its effects. But the most important player in the international scene on this question is now going to, at the very least, take itself out of the game and, more likely, try hard to obstruct real progress. This damage won’t last for decades; this damage will last for geologic time.
AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to turn to a clip of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson during an address to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2012. He said fears about climate change are overblown.
REX TILLERSON: And clearly, there’s going to be an impact. So I’m not — not disputing that increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere is going to have an impact. It will have a warming impact. We believe those consequences are manageable. They do require us to begin to exert or spend more policy effort on adaptation. What do you want to do if? If we think the future has sea level rising four inches, six inches, where are the impacted areas, and what do you want to do to adapt to that? And as human beings, as a — as a species, that’s why we’re all still here. We have spent our entire existence adapting. OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around, we’ll adapt to that. It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.
AMY GOODMAN: Carroll Muffett, your response?
CARROLL MUFFETT: It’s emblematic of the industry’s response for decades: delay, deny, deny, delay, and, ultimately, when the problem becomes intractable, say that we can adapt, and it will be someone else’s responsibility. I think the challenge is when you look at what adaptation means for millions of people living in coastal regions, living in river deltas that face unpredictable flooding, that face drought, that face starvation. I think that it is — I think it’s emblematic of a company and an individual who sees every problem as an engineering problem rather than as a social problem, an economic problem and a problem of human rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Erich Pica, let’s look at the appointments so far. You have Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, one of the major foes of the Environmental Protection Agency; Jeff Sessions, attorney general. We haven’t talked as much about President-elect Trump’s choice to head the Department of Interior, Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Can you talk about her and then this overall picture of his planned Cabinet that we know so far?
ERICH PICA: Yeah, I mean, he — his Cabinet nominees are the worst when it comes to understanding climate change and perpetuating climate denialism. Here we have Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who has a lifetime record with the League of Conservation Voters of 4 percent. She has voted or led to fight President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. She has wanted to auction off public lands to the highest bidder for the extraction of oil and gas and timber. She has supported Cliven Bundy, you know, the — and his group that took over Oregon in an armed revolt. She was one of 15 members of Congress that actually supported the takeover of the Oregon park. And so, McMorris Rodgers, she is aligned with some of the most radical anti-environmental, anti-climate movements here in the United States. And she is now going to — she’s been nominated to now run the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for managing 500 million acres of US public lands. And so, Friends of the Earth and 350, many of us have said, you know, we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground, which means that the federal government cannot lease any more oil, coal and natural gas. And now we have an Interior Department official who not only doesn’t believe in climate change but wants to sell off those public lands to the highest bidder or the lowest bidder — I think she doesn’t really care; she just wants to sell them off — for the express purpose of extracting as fast as possible.
And this is a trend that we’ve seen with Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency, the former attorney general — the current attorney general of Oklahoma, who has opposed each of the major rules that President Obama has tried to put in place to regulate climate change, provide for safer water and for public health. And now he’s going to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, if he’s not opposed.
You look at Sessions for the US attorney general, and he has actually tried to squash the investigation that’s been spurred into ExxonMobil’s — you know, how they’ve treated corporate shareholders and whether or not they lied to them. And so, we can see Sessions gutting not only the Environmental Crimes Division at the Department of Justice, but also the Civil Rights Division. And what he has put in place is a series of appointees that will do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry to suppress the right to vote, to suppress people’s speech and to then give these fossil fuel polluters a free ride when it comes to their responsibility to both pay for climate damages as well as to cut their own production of fossil fuels.
AMY GOODMAN: The League of Conservation Voters, as you said, gave Cathy McMorris Rodgers a zero in its most recent ratings. Here, she is speaking out in 2015 in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline.
REP. CATHY McMORRIS RODGERS: We stand here very proud to have just voted for the 11th time in the House of Representatives to approve the Keystone pipeline project. We voted to approve more than 40,000 American jobs. We voted for energy innovation, energy independence. We voted to say yes to American energy.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state. Bill McKibben, your response?
BILL McKIBBEN: Well, look, Erich’s right: This is all of a piece, and the piece is that the fossil fuel industry is now going to be dominant in Washington, unless we can stop these people from being confirmed. And even if we can, they will find some others, the Trump administration, of the same vein. What I think we need to say over and over and over again is the era of any pretense is over. These guys now own, lock, stock and barrel, the policy that they’re putting forward. As the planet goes south, everyone will start to realize exactly who and why it’s happening. And in that sense, and in that sense only, there’s something useful about all of this. The era of any pretense that we’re working hard to both deal with climate change and help the oil industry and whatever, that’s over. Now we’re doing one thing: Federal policy is going to be all about helping the fossil fuel industry. And the results of that will be squarely on the people who are doing this. We will do everything that we can to slow them down in that process, but we will also continue, day after day, to point out what it is precisely that’s going on, because they’re breaking the planet. And as it breaks, we’re going to have to react in a truly powerful way going forward.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Bill McKibben is speaking to us from his home in Vermont. Carroll Muffett is president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, personally subpoenaed by Exxon in a case in Texas seeking to stop an investigation into Exxon’s activities, led by the Massachusetts attorney general. And Erich Pica will be leaving us, president of Friends of the Earth USA, and we’ll be joined by Joe Romm. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.