There Needs to Be a Separation of Oil and State

by Rachael Prokop

March 7, 2017

Yesterday, just hours after Trump’s lunch with former ExxonMobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the White House released a press release patting Exxon on the back — with quotes from Exxon’s current CEO Darren Woods praising the White House in return. Wonder what the two of them chatted about?

© Rex Curry / Greenpeace

THIS IS NOT NORMAL. The White House should not be a mouthpiece for any company, but especially not a fossil fuel company that’s spent the last four decades actively contributing to climate change while working to deny its existence.

In short, Trump using official White House channels to praise a company could violate a law that bans federal employees from using their public positions to promote commercial products. Just like Kellyanne Conway should not promote Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, the White House should not promote Exxon’s business.

And Rex Tillerson should be doing everything he can to prove that he has moved on from his former career and is taking his new job as Secretary of State seriously — but it seems more and more likely that he plans to use his position to further the interests of ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry.

In a paragraph copied nearly word-for-word from an Exxon press release, the White House press release emphasizes Exxon’s “Growing the Gulf program” that consists of various fossil fuel projects along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. These hotly contested projects will expose Gulf communities to more hazardous chemicals and pollution, and risk even more deadly accidents along the coast like 2010’s BP oil disaster.

In the White House press release Woods is quoted as saying “the energy industry has proven it can operate safely and responsibly,” and that “Private sector investment is enhanced by this Administration’s support for smart regulations that support growth while protecting the environment.” This statement is completely misleading and untrue. Here’s why:

  • The fossil fuel industry claims it can operate safely in the Gulf, but Gulf residents deal with chronic leaks and the fallout from major disasters like the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion every day.
  • More fossil fuels taken out of the ground means more climate change. Period. The only way for the energy industry to operate safely is to move away from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy production.
  • Ironically, the same Gulf residents supposedly benefitting from these fossil fuel projects are among the first to bear the brunt of climate change, as rising seas swallow their coastlines and more extreme weather batters their shores.

With the way today’s announcement unfolded it’s clear that there is no separation of oil and state. By handing over U.S. foreign policy to an oil industry executive, Trump has created fertile ground for extensive conflicts of interest.

Worryingly, Rex Tillerson doesn’t just have the ability to influence White House press releases — he also has the power to make decisions on international fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. As someone who is so clearly biased towards the fossil fuel industry, Tillerson SHOULD NOT be permitted to involve himself in projects that show a clear conflict of interest.

This cozy relationship between the White House and Exxon can and should not be the new normal. We cannot let Exxon and Rex Tillerson hijack our democracy.

By Rachael Prokop

Rachael is an Online Campaigner with Greenpeace USA.

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