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Will Big Oil Take Over US Foreign Policy?

January 11, 2017


Amidst all the information overload from allegations of Russian  meddling and covert ops (can we call it “RussiaGate” yet?), Trump’s press conference today, and ongoing senate hearings for Jeff Sessions, there is another senate confirmation hearing starting today for Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State.

Tillerson, who was chairman and CEO of Exxon/Mobil from 2006 until his recent resignation, has been personally involved in major deals in Russia since 1997. According to the Wall Street Journal, Tillerson has developed a close business relationship with Vladimir Putin, who awarded him Russia’s Order of Friendship medal in 2013.  Tillerson also worked closely with close Putin ally Igor Sechin, who was specifically named in sanctions imposed by the US in 2014 after Russia invaded Ukraine.The US sanctions put a hold on most Exxon/Mobil operations in Russia, but (again according to the WSJ) “no other Western energy company has as much direct exposure to Russia as Exxon, thanks to a $3.2 billion deal giving the company access to a swath of the Arctic larger than Texas that could hold the equivalent of billions of barrels of oil and gas.”

The WSJ notes concerns over “conflicts of interest between his former job and what would become his official duties. For example, if President-elect Trump moves to lift Russia sanctions, Mr. Tillerson would be in a position to benefit his former company in a profound way.”

Now given Russian hacking and alleged collection of compromising information on Trump, there is also reason for concern about the extent and nature of Tillerson’s ties with the Russian government and oligarchs.  The Russians have almost certainly compiled extensive information on Tillerson as well, and if there were compromising information it could potentially be used to influence his actions as Secretary of State.

Like Trump, Tillerson has no experience in government. Under his leadership, Exxon/Mobil pursued its own corporate interests even when they conflicted with US foreign policy, including doing business in Iran, Syria, and Sudan (via European subsidiaries) while those countries were under US sanctions as sponsors of terrorism.

Equally or even more troubling are his views on climate change, perhaps the biggest foreign policy and technological problem of this century.  Both Exxon/Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute (of which Tillerson is a prominent member) have funded climate change deniers and disinformation.  Some credit Tillerson for stopping direct funding by Exxon, but according to Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace, as of 2015 Exxon continued to fund other groups like the American Enterprise Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council that also seek to foster doubts about climate change.

While Exxon/Mobil now officially acknowledges the reality of climate change, the responses that Tillerson has offered up so far amount to little more than lip service.  It seems highly unlikely that Tillerson would speak up against Trump’s proclaimed intention to scrap the Paris agreements to cut greenhouse gases or pursue any other international agreements to mitigate the worldwide disaster that scientific consensus predicts.

There are just too many red flags on Tillerson.  If you’re bothered by any of this, call your senators and tell them.  For information on how to get in touch with them, click here.

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