Donald Trump has picked a big oil CEO with no government experience as his secretary of State

Looking forward to this nomination battle.
Looking forward to this nomination battle.
Image: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi
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Donald Trump’s team has confirmed that Rex Tillerson, the chief executive and chairman of ExxonMobil, is the US president-elect’s choice for secretary of State.

“He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company, not for himself, but the company,” Trump said last weekend. He described Tillerson, who has been an Exxon employee for 41 of his 64 years, and became CEO in 2006, as a “world-class player.”

And for good measure, here’s what a world-class player’s salary looks like:

Indeed, it’s those “massive deals in Russia,” and his close friendship with Vladimir Putin—who awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship in 2013—that make him such a controversial pick. Exxon has billions of dollars in oil contracts that are stalled while the US maintains sanctions against Russia.

Trump will now have a fight on his hands with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who are uncomfortable with Tillerson’s cosy relationship with Moscow, since Congress must approve the nomination. Exxon also has outstanding legal cases in Venezuela and Nigeria—throwing up more potentially thorny conflicts.

Tillerson’s nomination is also a further indication of how little Trump cares about the environment. Last week, the president-elect chose a known climate-change denier, Oklahoma attorney-general Scott Pruitt, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Tillerson’s watch Exxon has stood out among the big oil firms as one of those most resistant to changing its business because of global warming. During the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, a group of Exxon investors co-filed a resolution asking the company to report on how its business would be affected by international efforts to limit warming. The resolution ultimately failed when Exxon shareholders voted on it last May, with just 38% of them voting in favor.

But there are signs of hope too. In 2009, Tillerson reversed Exxon’s former policy of funding researchers to create reports that cast doubt on man-made climate change, and instead called on Congress to instigate a CO2 emissions tax. He said climate change was an “important global issue.”

Aside from his big oil credentials, Tillerson is also the former head of the Boy Scouts of America, and is credited with successfully lobbying the organization to accept openly gay scouts (to the anger of some conservatives). If Congress gives him the green light, Tillerson will also be the first secretary of State in modern history with no experience in the public sector: He’s spent his entire career at Exxon.