Trump Agenda: EPA, State Picks Aligned With Fossil Fuels Industry

Jerri-Lynn here: In this Real News Network interview, DeSmogBlog’s Steve Horn discusses the fossil-fuel friendly history of President-elect Trump’s choices for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator and Secretary of State. Note that although the interview aired before the formal announcement of President-elect Trump’s selection of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for Secretary of State, Horn anticipated that Trump would make that choice, and described some implications of that decision.

This post reiterates some points that were also made in this December 8 post, Trump EPA Pick: Scott Pruitt as EPA Head Signals Agency Will Ignore Climate Change, which also discussed Pruitt’s legal efforts as Oklahoma’s  Attorney General to thwart the Clean Power Plan and the EPA’s methane emissions caps.  Interested readers might also want to look at Horn’s original article for DeSmogBlog, The Billionaire Energy Investor Who Vetted Trump’s EPA Pick Has Long List of EPA Violations, which sparked this Real News network interview.

I should also mention that I quibble with Horn’s throwaway comment about possible Russian intervention in the US election– but not enough to prevent me from crossposting this interview, which contains sufficient useful information not so well collected elsewhere to offset my concern about Horn giving excessive credence to that claim.

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. With new key appointments to his upcoming Cabinet, President-elect Donald Trump appears to be moving fossil fuel interests front and center in his upcoming administration. Seen here with a backdrop of Virginian miners, Trump demonstrates his support for fossil fuels and the coal industry during his presidential campaign.

DONALD TRUMP: We’re gonna put the miners back to work. We’re gonna put the miners back to work. We’re gonna get those mines open. Oh… coal country!

KIM BROWN: So, after the election, Trump said that he would keep a “open mind on the issue of climate change.” But on Sunday, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, Donald Trump told Chris Wallace, “Nobody really knows if climate change is real.”

With us to discuss what these new appointments mean for the United States energy and climate policy, we’re joined by Steve Horn. Steve is a Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and he’s also a freelance investigative journalist whose work is featured in The Guardian, The Nation and Truthout. He joins us today from Indianapolis. Steve, thank you so much for being here.

STEVE HORN: Good to be back. Thanks for having me.

KIM BROWN: Steve, there’s a lot to unpack here. But, first, talk to us about Scott Pruitt — who he is and what does it mean for him to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency?

STEVE HORN: Well, a good place to start with Scott Pruitt is that he basically has the same exact climate change position as Donald Trump basically put forward in his Fox News interview, and that is that there’s still a lot to be learned about climate change and whether or not humans caused it, therefore it’s not too much to worry about and, you know, the climate scientists, what they say is probably exaggerated and so everything is okay. We should just move forward with producing as much fossil fuel as possible in the United States and around the world.

So, Scott Pruitt is sort of symbolic of who Donald Trump has surrounded himself with, both on the campaign trail for his climate and energy team and now, after being elected President, who he has surrounded himself with for his transition team. And so, it’s been people… you know, you have to look at who helped pick Scott Pruitt, and that is people like Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is a well-known climate change denier. CEI … was funded by Koch Industries; Donors Trust, which is just a dark money trust fund that is funded by the likes of, again, Koch Industries. Used to be funded by Exxon Mobil, etcetera. So, Myron Ebell has been the head of the EPA transition team, picking… was instrumental in picking Scott Pruitt.

Scott Pruitt himself, someone who sued the EPA on behalf of his state — he’s an Attorney General — in the Obama-era(?) EPA for its coal regulations and for its methane regulations. So he’s someone who went unopposed in 2014 running for Attorney General, still ended up raising over $300,000 from the energy industry, even though he didn’t have an opponent. So, I think his allegiances are clear: he considered himself someone who worked for the oil and gas industry as the Attorney General of Oklahoma. That’s sort of a central hub of fracking and of oil and gas in the United States, historically, and at present. So that’s sort of what we’re looking at with Scott Pruitt. Someone who has no background in science, someone who has no background in working for any environmental protection agency at all, someone who used to be a state level Senator in Oklahoma, then became Attorney General, and now he is the Head of EPA of the United States if he gets it through by Congress.

KIM BROWN: Yeah, his selection definitely makes me wonder how can someone be tapped to head the Environmental Protection Agency if they themselves are not interested in actually protecting the environment. So, Steve, talk to us about what the vetting process is for this pick because, as you wrote about in your article, “The Billionaire Energy Investor Who Vetted Trump’s EPA Pick?”, has a long list of EPA violations. So how did we get Scott Pruitt to head the agency designated to protect the environment, when that’s not really seemingly his thing?

STEVE HORN: Right. So, I mentioned Myron Ebell, and that’s obviously crucial, but I think that the part of the story that’s been lost, that has really only been reported on by the business press is that in actuality, the 26th richest man on the planet and a long-time business partner of Donald Trump, Carl Icahn, who helped him when he went bankrupt at the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel in Atlantic City. Carl Icahn was actually doing interviews of all of the finalists for the EPA position. That was reported on by CNBC, that was reported on by The Wall Street Journal. CNBC actually reported that he did four interviews with Scott Pruitt and interviewed all of the finalists, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

And, as you said, he has business ties nationally, looking at what his investments are in for Icahn Enterprises, and entities such as Cheniere, which is a gas exporting company, has terminals on the Gulf Coast, Sabine Pass LNG, for example, which was approved by the Obama Administration in 2012. He formerly… or he still owns a small stake in Transocean, which was partially responsible for the BP oil spill back in 2010. And, importantly, in this case, actually has business stakes in Oklahoma, going back to Pruitt connection, owns another company through the Icahn Enterprises holding company known as CVR Energy, which also has a subsidiary called CVR Refining. And through that they own a big refinery in Oklahoma which does refining of oil and gas products including tar sands from Alberta, including tar sands that flow through the original Keystone I Pipeline that was approved by the Bush Administration in 2008.

So, and looking at that actual refinery in Oklahoma, it has been tagged with several EPA violations. If you look at EPA data as very high levels of carbon emissions, the equivalent of one quarter of the year of an average coal-fired power plant. And then looking at its methane emissions, also very high levels, plus several other carcinogens.

And so, also through another company that he still owns a stake in — 4.5%, Chesapeake Energy, which is also based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. That’s another company that was actually tagged with one of the highest amounts… looking at the monetary level, for an EPA violation several years ago, for water contamination in West Virginia, for one of Chesapeake Energy’s subsidiaries, Chesapeake-Appalachia. So, this is a guy who was doing the actual interview of Scott Pruitt, who himself has been tagged with lots of EPA violations, and said when Pruitt was hired, went on Bloomberg, and said, sort of in this ironic twist, said the hiring of Pruitt is a “breath of fresh air.” So looking very ironic given what goes on at his refineries and at his various holdings throughout the United States. So that’s the guy who interviewed the head of the EPA. He’s a long-time Trump business partner and one of the richest men on the planet.

KIM BROWN: I’m sure it was the most fabulous, most amazing vetting ever.

STEVE HORN: Yeah. As Trump would put it, yes.

KIM BROWN: But, Steve, you know there has been some discussion of people associated with the Koch brothers as you just mentioned. Koch brothers-founded groups moving to be featured prominently within the Trump Administration. Tell us about one of those groups, the Heritage Foundation, and the event last week.

STEVE HORN: Yeah. The Heritage Foundation, basically had what amounted to a celebration event. They didn’t… it wasn’t planned, they didn’t know who was going to win the presidency, but after Trump won, and so it’s a month after the election, and some of the biggest names in the climate denial space — whether that’s Senator James Inhofe, whether that’s… several others. I could go on and on, the list is in the article I wrote. But all of the most prominent climate change deniers in the United States, more or less, were there, and basically did a victory lap about the fact that Trump had won and so now this is a triumph of skepticism around climate science, more or less. Everyone talked about how it would be to the benefit of either the coal industry, the oil and gas industry or to the benefit of being more skeptical of climate change and scientific institutions such as the EPA. So it was almost a… I watched it all day live streamed, and it was kind of a frightening event to watch. Because it’s one of those things that it’s not on the fringe anymore. These are the people who have now a lot of influence over President Trump and his administration both in the picks over who will consist of that administration, but also going forward in the policy that the administration makes starting on January 20th.

KIM BROWN: So now there’s talk about Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson being chosen as Secretary of State. Now, could this become a clear relationship of one petro-state working with another, because there’s been a lot of reporting, at least recently, about Rex Tillerson’s relationship, not only to Russia, but other petro-states around the world. What should we make of Rex Tillerson as the Secretary of State?

STEVE HORN: Well, if he is actually picked, which is still a little bit up in the air, although there have been a couple of sources that did tell NBC News, and then it became big news nationally, that he is the pick. The Trump Administration still hasn’t officially announced, but yeah, he is the CEO of Exxon Mobil who has immense business relations with Russia that have been put on hold due to the sanctions that were placed on Russia because of the incursion in Crimea by Russia, and so we’re looking at — Exxon actually owns four times the amount of land acreage — it doesn’t own, but they lease four times the amount of land acreage in Russia as compared to what they hold in the United States, and they have immense holdings in the United States through a subsidiary XTO, which is the biggest producer of oil and gas in the United States through fracking. So we’re talking about a lot of oil and gas, both onshore in Siberia and then offshore in the Arctic as a joint venture with Rosneft that was announced several years ago in which Rex Tillerson signed the documents and stuff alongside President Vladimir Putin. So, that’s going on, the political story there, with all the tensions with Russia and the speculation that may have intervened in the US election, which is still yet to be determined, and it’s being investigated by Congress and other agencies. But that’s one piece of it.

Then the other piece, of course, that Exxon Mobil is the very biggest oil and gas producer in the world, and they have not only holdings in Russia, but basically with every country that the State Department has relations, more or less, Exxon probably touches… more than any country that has oil and gas, Exxon has close contact with. So that’s almost the bigger story here, plus the fact that if all that oil and gas was tapped into that’d be frightening from a climate change perspective. Plus, let’s not forget that the State Department is the agency that does show up at the United Nations Climate Change Conventions. Now that could be overseen by a guy like Rex Tillerson whose company has a long track record of funding climate change denial, although the company has sort of become a little bit more friendly towards talking about climate change and doesn’t have an overt position of denial, still, more or less, doesn’t really matter what they say about climate change. They’re producing a whole heck of a lot of carbon that is, of course, leading to a potential climate disaster. So that’s sort of what’s at stake here. It’s still unclear whether or not he’ll be chosen. But even if he is not, the fact that he’s met several times with Donald Trump means that his company now has an extremely good relationship with the Trump Administration going forward and will have a lot of influence over the decisions they make.

KIM BROWN: Donald Trump has vowed to make America great again. The Earth? Not so much. We’ll see how that goes. We’ve been speaking with Steve Horn. Steve is a Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog. He’s also a freelance investigative journalist. His work has been featured in The Guardian, The Nation and Truthout. Steve, we appreciate you joining us today. Thank you.

STEVE HORN: Great to be back on. Thanks for having me.

KIM BROWN: All right. And thanks for watching The Real News Network.

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  1. Cry Shop

    vs. Sec. Sally Jewell, Obama’s interior secretary, former Exxon Mobil field engineer, then banker to the oil industry, and queen of fracking? and the Obama EPA that opened the Arctic to Oil and Gas?

    It’s death either way, but at least one of these is a bit more in the face honest, which will still fail to get a response from the masses.

    1. feox

      While working in the private sector, Jewell became known for her involvement in conservation and environmental protection efforts.[15][16] Jewell has sat on the boards of Premera, the National Parks Conservation Association, the University of Washington Board of Regents (2001–2013), and the Retail Industry Leaders Association.[7][15][17] She helped found the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and served as a board member and president of the group.[18][19] She started making campaign contributions in 2008, giving almost “solely to Democratic candidates” according to USA Today.[15][20]

      In 2009 Jewell received the National Audubon Society’s Rachel Carson Award for her leadership in, and dedication to, conservation.[21][22] She was also named a 2012 Woman of Distinction from the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, and that same year was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Award for Public Service.[15] That same year, the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust named Jewell to its hall of fame for 21 years of leadership with Greenway Trust, encouraging people to participate in outdoor activities.[16][23] The University of Washington honored Jewell with its 2016 Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award.[7]

      As Secretary, Jewell approved the first phase of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP).[35][36] The DRECP focuses on renewable energy and land conservation in California’s desert.

      Jewell’s first order as Secretary, issued in October 2013, established a process for the Department of the Interior to offset large development projects with conservation efforts.[27] The effort was an extension of existing programs that use fees for offshore drilling permits to expand or build parks.[11] At the same time, Jewell publicly pledged to work with President Obama to preserve mountains and rivers, with or without Congressional action.

      You can’t see the difference with a Climate Change deniers ?

      1. tegnost

        which parks were expanded and built with the “offsets”? You need like 3 different parking passes in order to go to one of the state or national parks in WA. Have they been hiring more park rangers or fewer? Fracking? Did she stop that? How were labor relations at REI when she was in charge? Distinctive to girl scouts, UW board of Regents, Premera (isn’t that a health insurer), dedicated to conservation, Alumni Achievement…Hey, at least she encouraged outdoor activities, I see REI tents under all the bridges in Seattle. An excellent example of why the dems lost.

      2. Vatch

        Yes, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is better than EPA Administrator-designate Scott Pruitt, but she is still very disappointing, like so many senior managers in the Obama administration. Let’s take a look at this 2015 document from the Public Employees for Environmental Protection organization (only the second paragraph is about Secretary Jewell, but all four paragraphs are worth reading):

        The “No Drama Obama” management style features focus on
        a handful of top priorities, avoiding distractions and, above
        all, a “don’t make waves” ethic. It is difficult to identify a single
        Obama appointee as a bold reformer. Inconvenient truth-telling
        is not encouraged and whistleblowers remain unwelcome.
        As a result, Bush era policies and practices have been extended
        across a myriad of matters not on the White House front-burner.
        In many cases, agencies lumber forward with the very same senior
        managers handpicked by Vice President Dick Cheney – with predictable
        results. For those reasons, specialists striving to bring about
        the “Change We Need” are still running into brick walls (some with
        protruding spikes) on scores of in-the-trenches environmental and
        public health issues. Lack of meaningful progress dominates the
        Obama backwater in –

        • Natural Resource Protection. His “All of the Above” energy
        strategy touts issuing even more petroleum drilling permits
        than under Bush, even as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell
        announces her priority of “helping Shell move forward for
        this drilling season” into the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea. For the
        most part, Obama pronouncements couple energy policy
        with the environment as its junior partner or handmaiden;

        • Chemical Pollution. From our aquifers to our coasts, water
        pollution continues to spread, while rivers are increasingly
        the scenes of industrial accidents. The Great Lakes suffer
        poisonous algal blooms while our coral reefs are dying.
        The White House focus has been on expanding exports while
        ignoring the chemical exposures that go with it; and

        • Agricultural Biotech. From genetic engineering to incredibly
        potent and long-lasting neuro-active insecticides, there
        is no industrial agriculture product or technique this administration
        has not embraced. We can only hope FDA is able
        to reduce the rivers of antimicrobial drugs in livestock feed
        in time to avert the loss of many modern medicines rendered
        ineffective by the rise of “super-bug” diseases with antibacterial

      3. Cry Shop

        BTW, thanks for proving the first half of my “failing to respond.” That’s on you. Of course, you probably are paid to undermine any resistance to doing the right things.

    2. bmeisen

      Thanks for the reminder.
      Trump is the oil indusrry twisting the dagger. Big Mana Earth was in the shower in her room ar rhe American Way of Life Motel. Their dagger was hidden beneath a motel towel, and the oil crazies used their master key to open the door. They moved silently to the bathroom, tore the curtain aside and attacked. Trump is the final sadistic turn of the 10-inch chef’s knife. The Manson gang might be the better allegory.

      The relevant experts are virtually unanimous: observed increases in mean temperature are anthropogenic. The US contributes disproportionately to the conditions that cause the increases. As a child of tje Enlightenment and long a champion of science, the US was expected to play a leading role in saving the planet from the disasterous consequences of humanity’s exploitation of fossil fuel. Trump signals, as Obama signaled, that instead of leading the efforts to save the planet for our children, the US at this critical moment will do the opposite. The country’s elected representatives will intensify the damage that results from our reckless consumption of fossil fuels.

  2. Vatch

    I’ve already contacted my Senators’ offices to protest the Pruitt choice for EPA. It won’t have much effect, but it would be nice if members of the Senate were to know that people are unhappy about this. I encourage readers to contact their Senators; my understanding is that a physical paper letter or a phone call is more effective than contacting them via the web, but any contact is better than nothing.

  3. Pwelder

    It’s a serious error to put Tillerson in the same basket with some of the other picks – for two reasons:

    1) There are foreign policy heavyweights from both parties who will testify that Tillerson has the knowledge and temperament to effectively represent US interests around the world, People from the energy industry, some of whom deserve more respect than you’re willing to give them, will tell you the same thing.

    (OTOH, you want to raise questions about e.g. Rick Perry at DOE? With his background in Ag/Animal Science, he’ll have an exciting time running the nuclear programs. There’s a conversation worth having.)

    2) Now that we’ve got a world in which DT will be President, we had better hope that he gets some damn good help. When it comes to foreign policy, would you rather rely on Tillerson? Or on the wit and wisdom of Donald Trump? Unless you’re in “The worse, the better” mode, that’s a no-brainer.

    1. grizziz

      Let’s be clear here, when you say “represents US interests around the world” you should be a little less amorphous. Generally speaking US interests end up becoming the interests of the US President. The President is going to be influenced by that tight network of people he is surrounded with and the cognitive filters that network of people uses to guide the presidents opinion and actions. Of course, Trump being Trump, whatever shiny object that appears on the TV will get his attention and reorder the importance of whatever “interests” may be at stake.
      While occasionally a President might be interested in burnishing his image as a peace maker and attempt to mitigate some sort of violence or benevolence by providing aid for a disaster, it is my experience that most (90%?) of the interests that are represented by the US are privately owned property outside the US borders which is being threatened by individuals, organizations(real and imagined) or states.
      If Rex Tillerson is made SOS, I am sure that he will protect the property of US private interests abroad according to my modified definition “US interests.”

      1. different clue

        Nuke War Clinton with Russia would be bad for the Awwwwl Bidness. So Tillerson will probably try to avoid such a war, for “reasons of bidness” If that means he cancels DC FedRegime support for the illegal neo-nazi Banderite coup regime in Kiev, that would be good for Ukraine. If he supports the concept of letting Russia and Iran help restore law and order to Syria, that would be good for Syria. And both would be good for re-normalizing relations with Russia.

        Tillerson is less of a threat to world peace than any neo-Wilsonian monster of R2P Imperialism that a President Clinton would have appointed.

        Let us take our comfort where we can.

    2. JSacks

      “effectively represent US interests around the world”
      Think about that one for a while in the context of our abject failures in implementation at the barrel of a gun. The only US interest represented around the world are corporate profits at the expense of the environment and lives.

    3. Chauncey Gardiner

      Being pulled into the mode you mentioned in your concluding sentence, Pwelder. And based on the selections to date, expect there to be no shortage of “Heckuva job, Brownie” performances.

  4. Matthew G. Saroff

    I am Jewish, and deal with a lot of Orthodox Jews, including in-laws, who seem to think that they have to vote for Republicans because ….. Israel.

    Now Trump has appointed a guy who has come up through the oil industry, just like James Baker.

    Expect him to deal with Israel like James Baker.

    This is good in 2 ways:
    * It means that Bibi is going to get schlonged.
    * I get to say I told you so to my right wing Jewish friends.

    1. Cry Shop

      Hard to say which way it will blow. The war in Syria was all about getting pipelines from Israel’s financed gas fields in the Mediterranean into Europe, sometimes Israel and the oligarchy in Arabia are holding hands behind the shaking fists. Exxon, Shell, etc; all make a lot of noise, to please the Arab Street, but in the end even Baker kept the real support, going.

  5. Synapsid

    EXXONMobil is the very biggest producer of oil and gas in the world?

    When did that happen? Somebody help, please.

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