The oil industry is coming back to power in Washington.
President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE on Tuesday announced he will nominate Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of State, and transition aides said he has chosen former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), a staunch oil ally, for Energy secretary.
The picks, together with last week’s choice of oil-friendly Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, are giving the fossil fuel industry high hopes for the Trump administration.
The selection of Tillerson, in particular, appears to send a clear signal that Trump’s team will be looking out for oil’s interests around the globe.
“Rex Tillerson is world class. He has decades of experience working with global leaders and overseeing the creation of thousands of jobs,” Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement Tuesday.
“He understands that American voters want to strengthen our national security, grow jobs, and protect American interests globally.”
Trump’s Cabinet picks are in many ways an extension of the last Republican administration, under George W. Bush.
Bush, a former governor of Texas, had at his side Vice President Dick Cheney, who led oil giant Halliburton Co. His secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, had been on the board of Chevron Corp., and his Commerce secretary, Donald Evans, came to the administration from an oil company.
Bush’s policy moves often aligned with the priorities of the fossil fuel industry, such as the push for a 2003 bill to ease air pollution rules. The Bush administration also resisted pressure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite Trump’s harsh criticism of the Bush family in the past, his choice of Tillerson received a hearty endorsement on Tuesday from veterans of the Bush administration with ties to the oil industry, including Rice, Cheney and Robert Gates, Bush’s second Defense secretary.
Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s first Defense secretary, also hailed the choice of Tillerson, tweeting that Trump “seems to be assembling an accomplished & able cabinet.”
The choices are stirring alarm among environmentalists and Democrats who say Trump’s nominees are more extreme than anyone put forward by Bush.
“In a Donald Trump administration, America’s foreign policy, energy policy and environmental policy are all linked by one thing: oil,” said Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyEmanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Manchin climate stance threatens to shatter infrastructure bargain Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair MORE (D-Mass.).
“Donald Trump is drafting a Cabinet of Big Oil all-stars with the plan to drag us back to 19th century dirty energy sources and derail our 21st century clean energy future.”
Abigail Dillen, the vice president of litigation for climate at Earthjustice, called Trump’s Cabinet picks a “trifecta” for the oil and gas industry.
“These nominations would give the wealthiest oil executives in the country unprecedented power over our daily lives, from the air we breathe to the water we drink.”
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly pledged to roll back regulations on oil, natural gas and coal. He also promised to undo all of President Obama’s climate regulations and review numerous environmental rules for possible repeal.
Trump’s defenders say Tillerson, Perry and Pruitt are all accomplished individuals who can carry out those promises.
“Part of the platform that got Donald Trump elected president was a promise to unleash America’s potential by producing its own domestic energy,” said Greg Walcher, president of the Natural Resources Group, a public affairs firm. “So in my mind, having people who know how to do that is critical to the goal, and it’s what the public voted for.”
Tillerson has led the country’s largest oil company for a decade and has worked at Exxon Mobil Corp. his entire professional career.
His time at Exxon Mobil brought him close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he is certain to be questioned about during his confirmation hearing. He also opposes sanctions on Russia and negotiated an oil-drilling deal in 2011 with the Kurdistan region in Iraq.
Perry has little direct experience with energy or nuclear policy, but he led Texas’s Agriculture Department previously. Texas is also a leader nationally in oil and gas drilling, and a top producer of wind energy.
In the past, Perry has called for abolishing the Department of Energy he is now being asked to lead.
Pruitt is close with the oil and gas industries that are dominant in Oklahoma’s economy, and he has been open about pushing their policy priorities in the state and at the federal level.
He once sent a letter to the EPA complaining about pollution measurements that was written by an energy company, according to The New York Times. Pruitt also rejects mainstream climate science.
“From an environment and public health perspective, this has the potential to be a disaster, plain and simple,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a left-leaning consumer advocacy group.
“What I see here is folks who just want to do away with underlying regulations, who would support opening up some of these older statutes to gut them. And that’s really distressing,” he said.