President-elect Donald Trump riled climate hawks on Tuesday by picking Exxon Mobil Corp.’s CEO to lead the State Department and reportedly favoring former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to run the Department of Energy.
Trump announced Tillerson’s selection Tuesday morning. CBS reported Monday night, citing sources, that Trump had picked Perry for Energy secretary, although no announcement had been made by Tuesday afternoon.
Environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers blasted the picks, saying Tillerson and Perry are high-profile opponents of action on climate change.
Tillerson has spent his entire career at Exxon Mobil, which is embroiled in a controversy over reports that it knew of the dangers of climate change as early as the 1970s, but downplayed them publicly.
Perry has suggested climate change is a hoax, according to CBS News. He is on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline. And he infamously couldn’t remember the Department of Energy’s name, while pointing to agencies he wanted to eliminate during a 2011 presidential debate.
Critics were eager to point out the irony on Tuesday. The Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) all released statements Tuesday morning referencing Perry’s “oops” moment.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released a statement on Tuesday saying the Trump administration “should expect a fight” on the Tillerson and Perry nominations, as well as Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s nomination as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Tillerson and Perry have both supported some policies that could cut greenhouse gas emissions, although hardline environmentalists say it doesn’t offer much comfort.
Under Tillerson, Exxon Mobil has supported the Paris climate agreement and lobbied for a carbon tax. But Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, told Morning Consult on Monday that the company’s prior downplaying of climate change and its vast investments in fossil fuels outweigh the importance of those positions.
Doug Norlen, economic policy director at Friends of the Earth, told Morning Consult on Monday that he expects Tillerson to follow Trump’s lead on international climate deals, despite his past support.
“He’s going to serve Trump, and Trump has committed to tanking the Paris agreement, so his marching orders would be to do exactly that,” Norlen said in an interview.
Perry, meanwhile, helped guide Texas to becoming a wind energy powerhouse. He oversaw the creation of “Competitive Renewable Energy Zones,” which helped make the state the top producer of wind energy in the country. The state now has 18,531 megawatts of installed wind-power capacity, roughly three times as much as Iowa, which ranks second, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Perry also signed a bill into law creating a tax credit for enhanced oil recovery, which is the top use of carbon-capture technology. Texas is now home to the Petra Nova project, which applied carbon-capture technology to an existing coal plant, and the unfinished Texas Clean Energy Project, a new carbon-capture coal-fired power plant.
Perry is also supportive of nuclear power, which is controversial among environmentalists because of the risk of contamination, but emits no greenhouse gases. As governor, Perry supported nuclear waste storage sites in his state.
“We couldn’t agree more” with Perry on carbon-capture and nuclear power, said Darren Goode, spokesman for ClearPath, a conservative group that supports action on climate change, in an interview with Morning Consult on Tuesday.