President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday formally announced his selection of ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as his administration’s secretary of state. “Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none. I can think of no one more prepared, and no one more dedicated, to serve as Secretary of State at this critical time in our history,” Trump said in a release from his transition team.
Leading the State Department, Tillerson will be in charge of either implementing, or dismantling, U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement on climate change. The State Department played a key role in the United Nations negotiations of the accord, the world’s first climate agreement to apply to developed and developing countries.
The U.S. signed the agreement in April 2016 as soon as it opened for signature, and formally joined in September. The deal entered into force on Nov. 4, locking the U.S. in for at least four years, unless Trump can find a way to pull out, as he vowed to do during his campaign.
Since being elected, Trump has said he is “studying” the agreement and is keeping an “open mind.”
As recently as October, Tillerson has expressed at least acceptance of the Paris Agreement, and a preference toward carbon taxing to lower emissions. “At ExxonMobil, we share the view that the risks of climate change are serious and warrant thoughtful action. Addressing these risks requires broad-based, practical solutions around the world. Importantly, as a result of the Paris agreement, both developed and developing countries are now working together to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, while recognizing differing national responsibilities, capacities, and circumstances,” he said on Oct. 19 during the 37th annual Oil and Money Conference in London.
He added that ExxonMobil has “long supported a carbon tax as the best policy of those being considered. Replacing the hodge-podge of current, largely ineffective regulations with a revenue-neutral carbon tax would ensure a uniform and predictable cost of carbon across the economy.”
The oil and gas giant has also expressed support for the Paris Agreement. “The agreement is an important step forward by world governments in addressing the serious risks of climate change,” according to a Nov. 4 company release. “ExxonMobil supports the work of the Paris signatories, acknowledges the ambitious goals of this agreement and believes the company has a constructive role to play in developing solutions.”
However, the company is at the center of an investigation by the New York attorney general to determine if management knew more about the risks of climate change decades ago than it let the public know. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, has suggested the company may have known about the dangers of global warming as early as the late 1970s but have misled consumers about the science as late as 2014, potentially violating New York’s securities, consumer, and business fraud laws. Tillerson has been with Exxon since 1975, and took the CEO position in 2006.
Response to Tillerson’s impending nomination has been relatively neutral. “ExxonMobil has long opposed action to slow climate change. While the company has recently acknowledged the human role in climate change and declared support for the Paris Agreement, Tillerson would need to go much further,” Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, said in a release. ““In moving into public service, Tillerson would need to distance himself from his business interests and do what is best for the country. This includes embracing the transition to a low-carbon future, powered by renewable energy sources, which is good for the nation’s economy and security and its standing in the world.”
Tillerson will be formally nominated once Trump takes office in January and will then need to be confirmed by the Senate. Only a simply minority is needed to confirm a cabinet nominee meaning that if all Democrats vote against a nominee an additional three Republicans would also have to break rank.