Q&A: US Sec­re­tary of State pick could af­fect cli­mate pol­icy

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

PORT­LAND, Maine: Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump this week tapped Exxon Mo­bil CEO Rex Tiller­son to serve as his sec­re­tary of state. If con­firmed by the Se­nate, where op­po­si­tion is emerg­ing, the move could have broad con­se­quences for US en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy and af­fect the role the US plays in multi­na­tional dis­cus­sions about cli­mate change. Here are some ques­tions and an­swers about the se­lec­tion of Tiller­son.

Q. What’s his back­ground?

A. Tiller­son, 64, is a Texas na­tive and has spent his en­tire ca­reer at Exxon af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Univer­sity of Texas with a civil engi­neer­ing de­gree. He started as a pro­duc­tion en­gi­neer and rose to be­come gen­eral man­ager of the com­pany’s oil pro­duc­tion divi­sion in Texas, Ok­la­homa, Arkansas and Kansas in 1989. He was named pres­i­dent of Exxon Ye­men in 1995 and was later put in charge of Exxon’s op­er­a­tions in Rus­sia and the Caspian Sea. Af­ter be­ing named pres­i­dent of the cor­po­ra­tion in 2004, Tiller­son be­came chair­man and CEO in 2006. He was ex­pected to re­tire next year in line with the com­pany’s manda­tory re­tire­ment age of 65.

Q. What’s his re­la­tion­ship to Trump, and who was in the run­ning for the post?

A. Trump has said he be­lieves Tiller­son’s role as an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness­man for Exxon makes him uniquely qualified for the cabi­net po­si­tion. He has cited Tiller­son’s ex­pe­ri­ence in “global en­ter­prise” as ev­i­dence that Tiller­son can rep­re­sent US in­ter­ests around the world. The two share an es­tab­lished net­work of con­tacts in in­ter­na­tional govern­ment and busi­ness, while both lack pub­lic pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence. Tiller­son’s se­lec­tion for the na­tion’s top diplo­matic job came af­ter former New York City Mayor Ru­dolph Gi­u­liani and former Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney emerged as early fa­vorites. John Bolton, a mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s cabi­net, was also men­tioned.

Q. What is Exxon’s en­vi­ron­men­tal record?

A. Eleven mil­lion gal­lons of oil spilled when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince Wil­liam Sound in 1989. The ac­ci­dent fouled birds and ma­rine life and left a last­ing stain on Exxon’s rep­u­ta­tion. Tiller­son last year de­scribed it as a turn­ing point that ush­ered in a new “cul­ture of safety.” Nev­er­the­less, ac­ci­dents and vi­o­la­tions of pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tions have con­tin­ued. Since 2006, Exxon’s pipe­lines have spilled roughly 350,000 gal­lons of oil, cost­ing $158 mil­lion in prop­erty dam­age and re­pairs, in­clud­ing ma­jor spills in Mon­tana’s Yel­low­stone River and in Mayflower, Arkansas. The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency lodged at least 73 en­force­ment cases against Exxon and re­lated com­pa­nies in the same pe­riod, re­sult­ing in $11.3 mil­lion in as­sessed penal­ties and $436 mil­lion in com­pli­ance costs, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press anal­y­sis.

Q. What is the sta­tus of the fed­eral law­suit in­volv­ing ac­cu­sa­tions that Exxon hid cli­mate change re­search?

A. Of­fi­cials in Mas­sachusetts and New York have said Exxon un­der­stood a con­nec­tion be­tween burn­ing fos­sil fu­els and global warm­ing as far back as the 1970s. They con­tend the com­pany de­lib­er­ately mis­led the pub­lic about the is­sue. Exxon has de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions, and pushed back. Exxon went to court in Dal­las in June to throw out the Mas­sachusetts re­quest and later added a New York sub­poena. Lawyers for the com­pany have said in their law­suit that the state in­ves­ti­ga­tions were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. Fed­eral Judge Ed Kinkeade in Texas has the case.

Q. How has Exxon’s po­si­tion on cli­mate change mor­phed?

A. Exxon was long con­sid­ered a lead­ing op­po­nent of ef­forts to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions from burn­ing fos­sil fu­els that sci­en­tists say is re­spon­si­ble for cli­mate change. That changed over the past decade, coin­cid­ing with Tiller­son’s lead­er­ship and shift­ing en­ergy mar­kets, said David Levy, a man­age­ment pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mas­sachusetts in Bos­ton. The com­pany now sup­ports im­po­si­tion of a “car­bon tax” that would put a price on each ton of car­bon emit­ted. Crit­i­cism lingers. “While the world needs to go one di­rec­tion, he’s been hell­bent as CEO try­ing to go the other di­rec­tion,” said U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Ore­gon Demo­crat.

Q. What has Exxon’s po­si­tion been on Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ef­forts to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment?

A. Exxon has been crit­i­cal of some of Obama’s ef­forts to safe­guard nat­u­ral re­sources. The com­pany, un­der Tiller­son’s lead­er­ship, has ques­tioned the wis­dom of lim­it­ing off­shore oil drilling off the At­lantic coast and Alaska. Tiller­son told The As­so­ci­ated Press last year that drilling off Alaska is im­por­tant de­spite dis­ap­proval from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists be­cause “even­tu­ally we are go­ing to need it” to meet en­ergy needs. US pol­icy about do­mes­tic drilling would fall un­der the In­te­rior Depart­ment more than un­der Tiller­son.

Q. How would Tiller­son in­ter­act with other coun­tries on cli­mate change?

A. Tiller­son would be re­spon­si­ble for rep­re­sent­ing US in­ter­ests in in­ter­na­tional meet­ings on cli­mate pol­icy and in deal­ings with world pow­ers about is­sues that over­lap with cli­mate, such as en­ergy, se­cu­rity and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. John Kerry has put a fo­cus on cli­mate change as sec­re­tary of state, in keep­ing with the agenda of Obama. The se­lec­tion of Tiller­son sig­nals to other coun­tries that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is chang­ing diplo­matic pri­or­i­ties, said Varun Si­varam, di­rec­tor of the Pro­gram on En­ergy Se­cu­rity and Cli­mate Change at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. But he added it’s im­por­tant to note Tiller­son has ac­knowl­edged that the world is warm­ing. “There cer­tainly is sym­bol­ism to nom­i­nat­ing the CEO of the big­gest oil com­pany in the world as sec­re­tary of state,” Si­varam said. “I think it’s im­por­tant to separate the man from the sym­bol­ism.” —AP

GRENOBLE: (FILES) This file photo taken on De­cem­ber 13, 2016 shows a “CRIT’air” eco-vi­gnette on a car win­dow in Grenoble, east­ern France. The French govern­ment wants to ex­tend the use of the coloured “air qual­ity cer­tifi­cate” vi­gnettes, to bet­ter target and fight air pol­lu­tion. —AFP

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