For those who have been frustrated with the Obama Administration’s policies on climate and energy, Trump’s choices of several oil men for executive positions have those in the oil and gas industry feeling optimistic that change is coming.
A Fuelfix article earlier this week reminds us that government and oil haven’t always gotten along.
Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court broke up John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil in 1911, the energy industry has been at loggerheads with the federal government. Now it is the government — or may be if Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson is confirmed as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state.
It’s a big change to see so many names familiar to the energy industry poised to take positions that have great potential to influence policy. Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon-Mobil, secured the position earlier this week, beating out big names like Mitt Romney, Rudy Guiliani, David Patraeus, and Bob Corker, just to name a few. Politico says Tillerson is exactly the kind of guy Trump was looking for. He’s a “strong guy…As soon as he met him, he told people that Tillerson is the kind of guy that walks in a room and commands respect. Liked Romney. Liked Rudy. But Tillerson was a stronger guy.” It doesn’t hurt that Tillerson, like Trump, has made billion-dollar deals and run multinational companies. He has experience dealing with international icons, like Vladimir Putin; such relationships make him appear qualified to deal with the current complicated relationship between the United States and Russia.
The relationship between Tillerson and Putin seems to make some people uneasy, however. Politico notes the final line of Tillerson’s official biography on the ExxonMobil website reads, “In 2013, he was awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation.” Sen. John McCain, for example, voiced his concerns on Fox News, saying Tillerson’s relationship with Putin was a “matter of concern for me.”
The New York Times noted that Tillerson has been specifically skeptical about Russian sanctions, which raises concerns about Tillerson’s stake in Russia’s energy industry, potentially creating a “very blurry line between his interests as an oilman and his role as America’s leading diplomat.” The Times references ExxonMobil’s projects in Siberia that have been halted due to sanctions.
Rick Perry, former Presidential candidate and Texas governor with significant experience in oil and gas, is slated to take over the Energy Department. Some are wary to see Perry at the top of the department, since he has strong ties to energy companies and may seem biased towards energy companies in his decision-making. He currently sits on two corporate boards–Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, which has plans to acquire Energy Transfer in a $21.3 billion deal, according to Fortune. You might recognize Energy Transfer Partners as the parent company in charge of the highly contested Dakota Access Pipeline. His experience on the board of these two companies can be seen as a big plus, since he understands the industry well. However, others believe his ties to Big Oil represent a conflict of interest.
John Kemp, Reuters analyst, also pointed out Perry’s promise to abolish the department of Energy back in a 2011 debate. Perry has also been known to question climate change science, which also raises concerns among his critics, worrying many of the policies instituted by the Obama Administration in regards to climate change will be revoked.
Kemp’s article this morning also discussed the fundamental purpose and function of the Department of Energy in the first place. He says that the Trump transition team has been “waging its own war against the department sending it a detailed 74-item questionnaire about climate policies, forecasting and the work of career civil servants and officials.” Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the questionnaire might indicate that Trump’s team “may be preparing to take arbitrary action against civil servants and government contractors” for doing their jobs and implementing the policies of the Obama administration.” Cantwell says the questions even “challenge the independent data analysis functions performed by the Energy Information Administration.”
Last but not least, Trump also appointed a well-known name in oil and gas to head up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This final name, familiar to the energy industry, also has potential to change policy that could have significant impact on the oil and gas industry. Trump named Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as his choice to run the agency that makes many energy industry folks shudder, just by hearing the name. However, Trump’s pick to lead the EPA is what drilling magnate and fracking pioneer Harold Hamm is calling “a great pick to lead the EPA,” according to CNBC.
Pruitt as EPA head might have industry leaders like Hamm looking forward to a new energy-friendly environment, but others see Trump’s pick as less than ideal. The Guardian’s headline called Scott Pruitt’s EPA “a dream for oil and gas firms” but a “nightmare for environment.”
Pruitt has not been silent in the past about his skepticism about climate change spurred by human activity. The Guardian notes that just last May, Pruitt wrote, “That debate is far from settled. Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” This stance aligns with statements made by Donald Trump during his campaign, who tweeted in 2012, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Despite potential misgivings by many, especially Democrats, who believe Trump’s picks represent a group of foxes in the henhouse, the energy industry has lots to gain from these three appointees who will likely make it much easier to drill and profit from it.