By Jean McWilliams
The gravity of Donald Trump’s picks for cabinet positions becomes real this week as Senate confirmations are underway for prospective Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. I don’t know if you are like me, but I was so focused on objecting to Trump’s nominees for positions at the EPA and the Departments of the Interior and Energy that I failed to realize the ways in which the AG and the Secretary of State can and will impact environmental policy and legislation, both at national and international levels.
Digging into some background on Senator Sessions and Mr.Tillerson, it's easy to see how each of these individuals could set back the cause of environmental protection, if confirmed to their respective posts.
We already know that Senator Sessions has an abysmal record on civil and voting rights, but let’s not forget that his record on environmental issues is equally dismal. He has opposed nearly every piece of legislation regarding global warming since 1997. As the chief law enforcement officer of the land, charged with preserving and protecting laws that guarantee our basic right to clean air and water, Sessions cannot be trusted. He voted against a resolution to include oil and gas smokestacks in regulations limiting mercury emissions. He voted against prohibiting eminent domain to protect parks and public grazing land.
The League of Conservations Voters (LCV), one of the major voices in the national environmental movement, gives Sessions a whopping 5% on their National Environmental Scorecard. On climate change, Sessions argues: “The truth is that predictions of warming have simply not occurred at the rate that the experts have predicted. This rush to force billions more dollars of costs on this economy and thousands of more people laid off based on predictions that are not panning out deserves analysis.” Sounds like a climate change denier to me! Do we want this individual as the chief enforcer of laws that guarantee our fundamental right to clean air and water?
On Wednesday, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, comes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for review and potential confirmation. He would replace Secretary John Kerry, a diplomat who saw climate change as a critical issue and placed it in a prominent position on his agenda. While Tillerson stands out among other Trump nominees as at least admitting to the reality of climate change, let’s not forget that he is a lifelong employee of the gas and coal industry, the largest contributors to carbon emissions and the most vocal and powerful resistors to regulating these toxins. When grilled by the committee, Tillerson will no doubt argue that at Exxon Mobil, he acknowledged the risks of climate change and called for “thoughtful action.”
The history of Exxon Mobil and Mr. Tillerson’s leadership at the helm, however, raise serious doubts about his real commitment to action on climate change. “They [Exxon Mobill] deliberately changed their stripes on climate, but it was all P.R, “argues Kert Daves, founder of Climate Investigations Center, an environmental research and advocacy organization. Exxon Mobil and Rex Tillerson may be earnest in their pronouncements on policy, but have been appallingly reluctant to act. Peter C. Frumhoff, Director of Science and Policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists describes Exxon’s stance as, “We agree with the I.P.C.C.[Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] on climate science—except where it’s inconvenient.”
President-elect Trump’s nominations to key cabinet positions, including Secretary of State, threaten the US leadership on climate change and suggest an administration that promotes and deregulates the oil and gas industry, potentially undermining the Paris agreement and privileging corporate profit over long-term environmental stewardship. 314 Action encourages its members to play an active role by contacting Senators this week to vote against nominees who could reverse the progress we’ve made in responding to climate change.