Behind the rapid-fire pace of chest puffing “alternative facts” and Friday night anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican immigration orders, Trump is carrying out a Carbon Coup. Trump’s new Cabinet picks will radically tilt the federal government to one old-money industry that faces obsolescence: fossil fuels.
On Monday afternoon around 5 pm EST, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Rex Tillerson, the recently departed CEO of Exxon/Mobile the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas company to become Secretary of State. If Tillerson wins confirmation, Trump will be well on his way to installing a Carbon Cabinet that could alter everything from relations with Russia and Native tribes, to NASA research, to education, infrastructure, media, and freedom of expression.
(Do you know how your Senators will vote on Tillerson? California’s Dianne Feinstein will reportedly vote “yes” on Tillerson.)
Here is a run-down of Trump’s other Carbon nominations to his Cabinet.
Trump’s energy advisor during and after the campaign Harold Hamm, who made a lot of money in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale, is a major proponent of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Hamm reportedly put forward Scott Pruitt from oil rich Oklahoma to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt’s career as the state’s Attorney General is loaded with lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of oil interests, and he is a consistent “climate skeptic”. In charge of a big slice of the federal budget to enforce environmental regulations and research climate change, Pruitt could do some very big favors for the Carbon Coup by simple non-enforcement
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s political career has been heavily based on oil company donations. Now, as the nominee to be the Energy Department’s Secretary, Perry told his Senate confirmation hearing that he “regrets” having previously, and repeatedly called for the department’s termination. As Texas Governor, Perry’s record gives no indication that he would ever bite the hand that donates to him.
Rep. Tom Price (R. GA) selected at Secretary of Human Health and Services has said that “the allegedly settled science of climate change:” is “riddled with errors and obfuscation.” Price, a doctor, seems unlikely to direct any research funds to clear up any of this alleged confusion about the perils of climate change to human health.
Elaine Chao, the Transportation Secretary – vital to auto and truck manufacturing that uses and spews vast quantities of carbon – is the wife of Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell represents Kentucky, a coal state, and McConnell has thwarted every attempt to address global warming that has come before the Senate.
Wilbur Ross, a billionaire nominated to become Secretary of Commerce has owned and operated coalmining companies. One of his mines suffered a serious accident that killed 12 miners. Mr. Ross has substantial carbon investments, but says he will sell off his stock before taking office.
The one relative “moderate” would be Secretary of Interior nominee Ryan Zinke (R-MT). While Zinke reportedly favors expanding oil and gas drilling and mining on the public lands he would administer, he does not however advocate selling off public lands outright. According to Politico’s “Energy Report” Zinke’s opposition to outright sale of federal lands was strongly backed by a sportsman’s organization, “Back Country Hunters and Anglers”, a group that Donald Trump Jr. belongs as a “lifetime member”. One possible take-away: If you want to influence Mr. Trump, forget golf. Go fishing with his son.
Trump’s Carbon Cabinet will also find willing partners in the Senate. In yet another counter-intuitive move, North Dakota’s Sen. John Hoeven became chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Hoeven’s antipathy to Native Americans was clear during this fall's campaign in his home state. Hoeven publicly opposed the tribes protesting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and called them “violent”. During the campaign this past fall, Hoeven was scarcely solicitous of Native voters who amount to 8-10% of the state's population. Hoeven remained silent when it came to moderating or opposing the violent, racially tinged tactics that the North Dakota state government and Morton County Sheriff’s Department used against the Water Protector’s movement at Standing Rock. The Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters have sought to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline from crossing the Missouri River, the clean water source of 18,000,000 people. The tribe and the water protectors have faced militarized police forces, economic blockades of state highways, and almost round the clock aerial surveillance since September. Hoeven favors the Dakota pipeline and reportedly supports the idea of breaking up Indian Reservations across the US so they could be developed privately.
The lack of any significant countervailing power in the Executive Branch or in Congress, the Carbon Coup in Washington DC is close to complete. So, the only thing to slow the Carbon Coup now underway will be citizen activism, lawsuits, and consumer and investor boycotts. Certainly Trump’s memorandum on the Dakota Access Pipeline and Keystone XL will face challenges on the ground from grass-roots activists and in court from tribal and environmental lawsuits.
The Carbon Coup will receive protective coverage from Senior Presidential Advisor, Steve Bannon who will probably keep up a lively barrage of racist and incendiary decrees and a bitter Twitter feed to distract Trump's white working class base from noticing the economic mugging of the public’s resources.
With his Carbon Cabinet, Trump will attempt to tilt the Federal government’s orientation entirely to one "old money", 19th century industry. The Carbon Coup will face a reality check. Currently most energy investment goes to renewable energy, not carbon. Electric vehicle manufacture will double and triple in the near future. And even mid-level data analytic people in the oil industry admit that, “Oil is a dying business”.
But fossil fuel is a highly centralized, capital-intensive industry that has a century plus of old money invested. The old guard of America likes oil.
Whether the interests behind the Carbon Coup regard the Trump administration as an opportunity to turn back the clock, or more pragmatically as their last chance to loot public resources, the basic dynamics will not change. The Carbon Coup is backwards looking and may not survive the on-coming waves of citizen activism and technological innovation. But in the meantime, the fossil fuel industry could needlessly send so much carbon into the atmosphere that the human species might cook before they can enjoy those innovations.
Event: Monday, Jan 29, 5pm EST Senate to vote to confirm Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State