For climate hawks, firing Tillerson is a case of 'be careful what you wish for'

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives at a meeting of the National Space Council in Chantilly, Va., on Oct. 5, 2017. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Trump’s dismissal of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday morning fulfilled a long-held wish for climate advocates, but they fear his replacement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, will be even worse.

Tillerson joined Exxon in 1975 and rose through the ranks over the decades. He was CEO and chairman of ExxonMobil from 2006 until he joined the Trump administration in 2017. That Trump would nominate a lifelong oilman to succeed John Kerry, who led the U.S. through the Paris climate negotiations of late 2015, as the nation’s top diplomat resulted in predictable and fierce pushback.

During his confirmation hearing in January 2017, however, Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he thought the United States should stay in the Paris Agreement, which strives to reduce global warming to 2°C (3.6°F). He also suggested that a carbon tax may be the best way to limit the greenhouse-gas emissions driving global warming.

Pompeo, on the other hand, identified with the tea party and represented Kansas’s Fourth Congressional District from 2011 to 2017. He received more financial backing from Koch Industries, an energy and natural resources conglomerate, than any other candidate in the 2010 elections: $80,000.

In fact, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a bipartisan research group that tracks the effect of lobbying on elections and policy, Pompeo has received more money from Koch interests than any other House member. In just four election cycles (2010, 2012, 2014, 2016), he received the following: $335,000 from Koch Industries employees, which includes $92,000 from the Koch family; $69,000 from the Koch Industries PAC; $417,175 from Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group funded by the Kochs; and $87,532 from other organizations with substantial funding by the Koch brothers.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaks at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Feb. 13. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)

And Pompeo turned to the Koch brothers, who actively oppose climate change legislation, for money long before running for office. In the late ‘90s, Koch Industries invested in an aerospace company Pompeo founded with fellow West Point alumni. He sold his interest in Thayer Aerospace in 2006 and became president of Sentry International, which produces and sells oil field equipment.

In short, even though environmentalists adamantly opposed Tillerson, they do not expect anything positive for the climate from Pompeo.

Jake Schmidt, the international program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, released the following statement: “Replacing the man from Big Oil with a first-class climate denier simply goes from bad to worse. This shuffling of the deck chairs will ensure that Washington continues to bring up the rear when it comes to international action to combat dangerous climate change.”

Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement that Pompeo’s nomination is profoundly disturbing but not unexpected.

“Though not surprising, this is extremely troubling. Climate change is one of the most critical threats facing our nation and world, and the secretary of state has a huge responsibility to make sure it is addressed by the global community,” she said. “With a history of questioning the science of climate change, a close relationship with the polluter Koch brothers and lifetime LCV score of 4%, Mike Pompeo has no business becoming the next secretary of state.”

Naomi Ages, the climate director of Greenpeace USA, was similarly perturbed.

“Donald Trump has now somehow picked someone even worse than Rex Tillerson to run the State Department. Greenpeace has been opposed to Tillerson as secretary of state from the moment he was nominated, and we continue to believe that the U.S. government cannot and should not be run by fossil-fuel industry flunkies,” Ages said in a statement. “Mike Pompeo, though, is uniquely unqualified to be secretary of state in an entirely different way than Rex Tillerson was. In addition to being a climate denier, like his predecessor, Pompeo is Koch brothers’ shill who will denigrate the United States’ reputation abroad and make us vulnerable to threats at home.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., also took issue with Pompeo’s past statements on climate change.

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