Questions Senators Should Ask Rex Tillerson

Politics makes for strange bedfellows. Indeed, partisanship can even put people crosswise with their own long-professed ideological and policy agendas. Progressive activists and politicians, for example, are pulling out all the stops to block former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson from becoming Secretary of State. Tillerson testifies tomorrow before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The irony here is that Tillerson is probably the only influential person President-elect Trump would ever nominate as Secretary of State who supports both a carbon tax and—more importantly, because it falls within State’s bailiwick—the Paris Climate Agreement.

CEI is not opposing Tillerson’s nomination but we have concerns about his endorsement of the Paris Agreement as “an important step forward by world governments in addressing the serious risks of climate change.”

At the confirmation hearing, Senators should ask for clarification on two key issues. First, will Tillerson work to restore the Senate’s shared power in treaty making under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution?

Even though President Obama boasted that the Paris Agreement is the “most ambitious climate change agreement in history,” which is tantamount to acknowledging that its costs and risks exceed those of any previous environmental treaty, he refused to submit the Agreement to the Senate for its review. Why he did so is obvious. Mr. Obama knew that even under Democratic leadership, the Senate would not have given its consent to new international climate commitments.

What is Tillerson’s view of Obama’s end-run around the Senate? How will he help ensure that it does not become a precedent vitiating an important element of the Constitution’s checks and balances?

Second, does Tillerson understand how the Paris Agreement endangers American self-government, the U.S. economy, and the development aspirations of the world’s poor? The Agreement would put every administration and Congress, from now until 2030 and beyond, into an ever-tightening policy straightjacket.

Although our “green financing” and emission reduction commitments are “voluntary” in the sense of being self-chosen and not enforceable in international tribunals, developed countries are bound to make increasingly “ambitious” emission-reduction pledges every five years, and honoring those “non-binding” commitments requires turning them into binding domestic laws and regulations. The Agreement is set up to pressure each administration and Congress to adopt increasingly aggressive restrictions on domestic energy production, transport, and use—and do so regardless of the policy preferences of future U.S. leaders and electorates.

Under Paris, U.S. energy markets, policies, and infrastructure would be subject to a global political pressure regime in which most parties view America as an economic rival, cash cow, or both. Does Tillerson think such an arrangement would advance or hinder critical U.S. national interests?

The Senate should also be concerned about the Paris Agreement’s potential adverse impact on global human welfare.   

Analysis by Stephen Eule of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy shows that, assuming “consensus” climatology, the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2°C cannot be met without severely restricting the access of developing countries to fossil fuels, which remain the most affordable and reliable energy options in most markets.

As explained here, if developed countries magically reduce their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to zero by 2050, developing countries would still have to cut their current CO2 emissions by 35 percent to achieve the Paris Agreement’s “climate stabilization” goal. If, less unrealistically, developed countries reduce their emissions to 20 percent of current levels by 2050, developed countries would have to cut their current emissions almost in half.

More than a billion people in those countries have no electricity, billions more don’t have enough electricity to support development, and billions do not yet have automobiles.  

Does Tillerson recognize the risks the Paris Agreement poses to the health and welfare of the world’s poorest people?