Consolidation of power by the oil and coal barons began immediately after the election; president-elect Trump’s transition advisors emerged as an oil industry dream team. Despite the initial antipathy between Trump and the Koch brothers, once he secured the nomination, Donald Trump extended the olive branch to the flat earth oligarchs from Kansas. His choice of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as running mate was the first ominous sign that the rift had healed. Governor Pence had financed his political career with a steady flow of Koch cash and had demonstrated his fealty to the Kochs by hiring Marc Short as his gubernatorial chief of staff. Short had previously been president of Freedom Partners, the Kochs’ political arm. As governor, Pence made Indiana a proving ground for the radical right-wing experiment in corporate domination devised by Koch-funded think-tanks.
Three days after the 2016 election, Pence displaced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to become Trump’s overseer of the various agency transition teams. By that time, the writing was on the wall, and the penmanship was that of David and Charles Koch. David Koch attended Trump’s election night celebration. Trump soon appointed Marc Short as his director of legislative affairs, and stocked his transition team with Koch organization veterans, such as Tom Pyle, Darin Selnick, and Alan Cobb, and transition team executive committee members, Rebekah Mercer and Anthony Scaramucci. According to The Wall Street Journal, an astonishing 30 to 40 percent of Trump’s advisors had Koch pedigrees. These were the men and women who would shape the new president’s agenda.
Trump appointed a notorious Koch toady, Myron Ebell, to supervise his EPA transition. I’ve watched Ebell’s antics for decades. He is a professional deceiver. Ebell served as director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington think-tank formerly funded by ExxonMobil and the Kochs, and staffed primarily by “experts” and operatives, lately employed by Koch Industries and the Koch’s web of shadowy non-profit oil industry advocacy groups. Ebell, once a staunch global warming denier, has recently retrenched; “Yes, we are causing climate change,” he now admits, “but it’s a good thing.” Ebell preaches that the “mild global warming that has occurred since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid-nineteenth century has been largely beneficial for humanity and the biosphere. Earth is greening, food production has soared, and human longevity has increased dramatically.”
Ebell’s seven-person team included David Schnare, a lawyer who spent thirty-three years at the EPA before matriculating to institutes funded by the Kochs. Schnare made his bones as a polluter’s shill by filing legal actions demanding to inspect the email inboxes of EPA administrators and climate scientists. In Trump’s new era of “alternative facts,” there was no one better suited to purge the agency of credulous climate change believers.
Steve Groves led the State Department’s “landing team.” Groves, a policy wonk at the Koch- and Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation, wrote a post-election article calling for the United States to pull out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a prelude to refuting the Paris Agreement.
The Department of Interior transition fell under the leadership of Doug Domenech, director of the Fueling Freedom Project for the Koch-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation. That group’s mission is to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels.” Domenech knows how to make the system work for industry; during George W. Bush’s presidency, he served as White House liaison and deputy chief of staff at the Interior Department, facilitating Bush’s efforts to turn federal lands over to oil, gas, and mining interests and to timber barons.
President Trump’s transition overseer at the Department of Energy was Michael Catanzaro, a registered Koch Industries lobbyist. His successor is Thomas Pyle, former president of the Institute for Energy Research, a think-tank founded by Charles Koch. Before joining that chamber for charlatans, Pyle was Koch Industries’ director of federal affairs. Pyle is also president of the American Energy Alliance, another fossil fuel front group that receives a pipeline of cash from Koch, ExxonMobil, and Peabody Energy. (You’ll learn much more about the Peabody CEO in Chapter 7 of this book.)
Pyle mapped out “a big change” in an email to supporters in mid-November. He promised a “100-day plan” and a “200-day plan” to roll back America’s clean water and climate change protections. America, he promised, will pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and the EPA will jettison the dreaded “social cost of carbon” algorithm used to calculate the costs and benefits of climate change.
In December, eight hundred US scientists and energy experts sent a letter to president-elect Trump asking that he publicly identify global warming as a “human caused, urgent threat.” They went on: “If not, you will become the only government leader in the world to deny climate science. Your position will be at odds with virtually all climate scientists, most economists, military experts, fossil fuel companies and other business leaders, and the two-thirds of Americans worried about this issue.” Trump answered this urgent plea by the world’s most highly credentialed climate scientists during a Fox News interview in mid-December, assuring the audience that “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real. He said he was “studying” whether to pull America out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the hard-won treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that has been signed by 196 countries. There is little doubt about who is providing him crib-notes.
The ominous direction toward global catastrophe crystallized as Trump announced his cabinet and other key positions.
SECRETARY OF STATE: REX TILLERSON
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” —Revelation, 6:8.
In a breathtaking act of supplication to Big Oil, the new president gave his first cabinet appointment to Russell’s first Horseman, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Tillerson has never been mistaken for an American patriot. As Exxon CEO, he often adopted company policies that were contrary to US interests, including a lucrative deal with Russia to drill in the Arctic. When a shareholder asked Tillerson’s predecessor and mentor, Lee Raymond, whether the company should be improving US refinery capacity as a matter of national security, Raymond dismissed patriotism as an absurd distraction from profits. He famously declared, “Exxon is not a US company.” Tillerson’s worldview is dictated by his forty years of service to the selfish ideologies of a corporation that is locked in a ruinous battle against humanity and American values.
Trump’s critics wondered whether his peculiar choice to hand US foreign policy over to the world’s most visible and notorious oil man was a favor to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. As Exxon chief, Tillerson put aside scruples to align Exxon with the bloodthirsty tyrant, a choice that made Tillerson Putin’s favorite American businessman. In 2013, Vladimir Putin personally presented Tillerson with Russia’s ultimate honor to a foreigner, the Order of Friendship Award, after Tillerson signed controversial deals with the state-owned Russian oil company. In 2011, Tillerson flew to Russia to sign a $500-billion arrangement to jointly drill in the Arctic Shelf and the Black Sea and to develop shale oil in Siberia. Tillerson’s company allegedly lost around $1 billion dollars due to sanctions the Obama administration placed on Russia after Putin annexed the Crimean Peninsula.
Tillerson responded by directing ExxonMobil’s PAC to donate $1.8 million to oil-friendly federal politicians during the 2016 election cycle, with more than 90 percent going to the Republicans, who had dutifully shielded Exxon from carbon taxes and pollution regulations. During the six election cycles when he was CEO, nine of ten dollars donated by his company’s PAC went to GOP candidates.
Exxon’s corporate culture is not an admirable template for American idealism. Exxon already is a petro-state, wealthier than most countries, with its own private armies and intelligence apparatus. Now the head of Exxon is running our foreign affairs, with access to the many intelligence services and the capacity to bully states who don’t tow the oil line.
Waterkeeper Alliance is a clean water advocacy group, of which I serve as president. Waterkeeper, which works in thirty-eight countries, has submitted a fifty-four-page petition to the EPA calling for the agency to enforce “bad corporate actor” rules and end all its federal contracts with ExxonMobil. The petition addresses Exxon’s decades of deliberate lies—the company’s campaign to deceive the public, politicians, and regulators about the danger of climate change. Recently-released documents prove that the sociopaths, including Tillerson, who ran Exxon knew for decades that its business activities would cause catastrophic climate change and mass death. Putting profits before people, Exxon kept its climate change science secret, while funding professional liars and nurturing the growth of a generation of climate change deniers. Under Rex Tillerson’s leadership, the company continued to push government policies that buck proven science, human welfare, national security, and fundamental moral, ethical, and religious tenets. Last year, Exxon claimed as assets $330 billion in underground oil reserves that include some of the dirtiest fuels on Earth. The Securities and Exchange Commission and several states’ attorneys general, led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman, are currently investigating Exxon’s failure to disclose to its stockholders the risks it has long known are posed to company value by the reality of global warming. According to Schneiderman, unless we are willing to write off planet Earth, about two-thirds of those reserves can never leave the ground. Exxon is therefore exaggerating its market value by hundreds of billions.
Tillerson has never expressed concern or even the slightest self-awareness that Exxon’s business model threatens the future of humanity and life on Earth. America’s largest oil company has accounted for more than 3 percent of global climate pollution, dating back to the mid-1800s. After years of putting Exxon’s stock value ahead of humanity, will Tillerson now put America and the planet first? Tillerson’s company would be severely impacted by the Paris Climate Accord to limit the burning of fossil fuels. His thoughts on climate change? “What good is it to save the planet if humanity [read Exxon] suffers.”
And Tillerson didn’t waste any time as head of the State Department to scrub the website of the Office of Global Change to reflect his stance. As noted by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, the revised website removed any mention of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to “reduce carbon pollution, promote clean sources of energy that create jobs, protect communities from the impacts of climate change and work with partners to lead international climate change efforts.”
THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: SCOTT PRUITT
“These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. . . . And men were scorched with great heat. . . . And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.” —Revelation, 11:6, 16:9,20
Trump’s choice to run the EPA is an unctuous acolyte of Oklahoma’s factory meat and Big Oil barons. Scott Pruitt built his career as a patsy for polluters: Prior to Pruitt’s election in 2010, the Oklahoma attorney general’s office had built a model environmental enforcement division under Kelly Hunter Foster, who is now a staff attorney for my organization, Waterkeeper Alliance. Foster had filed a dozen lawsuits against the poultry and industrial pork industries, which were polluting Oklahoma’s air and waterways, sickening its citizens with effluvia of factory meat production, and putting family farmers out of business. Pruitt was the chicken industry’s handpicked attorney general. Oklahoma’s corporate meat barons financed Pruitt’s campaign to rid themselves of Foster’s lawsuits. Once in office, Pruitt dutifully terminated Hunter Foster’s unit and shelved her docket. As attorney general, he never filed another environmental action. Instead, Pruitt turned his office’s big guns against the EPA, filing a battery of federal lawsuits against the agency to challenge the Obama administration’s anti-pollution and climate safeguards. These included suing the EPA to block the Clean Power Plan and another suit aimed at gutting rules on methane emissions from the oil-and-gas sector. “He let polluters off the hook and destroyed a decade of work,” recalls Hunter Foster. “He has no environmental experience and no conservation instincts. His only qualification for his new job was his fierce hatred for EPA.” Since his ascension to the administrator’s post, Pruitt has frozen all new permits and scientific studies and put the agency in lockdown. He has promised to lay off 3,000 of the 15,000 EPA workers and cut the agency’s already anemic budget by 31 percent, more than any other agency.
“And the merchants of the earth are waxed rich . . . for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.” —Revelation, 18:3,23
Calvin Coolidge famously remarked that “the chief business of the American people is business.” Trump has made it clear that business is to be the EPA’s business as well. Pruitt burnished his resume for the EPA post with a major push by his mentor, Carl Icahn, a billionaire Wall Street hedge fund titan and generous Trump campaign donor. Icahn’s holding company does business with the Koch brothers and TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline system. A noisome EPA had accused Icahn’s Oklahoma-based oil company of violating environmental laws. Based on these qualifications, Trump appointed Icahn to vet the contenders for the top-level EPA jobs.
Pruitt also received a boost from another of the Horsemen featured in this book—Oklahoma billionaire Harold Hamm (see Chapter 6). Hamm chaired Pruitt’s 2013 reelection campaign. During the 2016 presidential election, Hamm had served as candidate Trump’s energy advisor, but declined the president-elect’s offer to head the Department of Energy.
Pruitt also boasts a direct Koch connection; as Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt was simultaneously a director of the nonprofit Rule of Law Defense Fund, which received $175,000 in 2014 from a dark money umbrella group called Freedom Partners, the Koch network’s political arm.
President Trump evidently shares Pruitt’s antipathy toward the environmental agency. Upon announcing Pruitt’s appointment, Trump added, “For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs.” In mid-March, the president announced that he’d ordered Pruitt to revise one of President Obama’s primary climate change policies—the EPA’s strict standards on tailpipe pollution from motor vehicles. “As to climate change,” Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget said at a White House briefing, “I think the president was fairly straightforward; ‘We’re not spending money on that anymore.’”
On March 2, Pruitt told CNBC News with his characteristic “dumb as I wanna be” glee that humans were not responsible for global warming. Pruitt was proudly jockeying the EPA into position as the flagship of the new administration’s anti-science crusade. The Bush administration had regarded science as a vanity of the despised liberal elite. One anonymous White House official, speaking to investigative journalist Ron Suskind, famously disparaged the liberal obsession with science-based inconvenient truths like climate change as “fact-based reality.” But the Trump clown team has immediately achieved a new dimension of unhinged, by appointing a science-hating flat-earther as head of the world’s premier environmental agency.
Even Christie Todd Whitman, who presided over the gutting of the EPA under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003, was sickened by Pruitt’s appointment. “I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does.”
Pruitt will have help from above as he plows under the rubble of his despised agency. In late December, Trump named Carl Icahn to a new administration position created by the president: Special Adviser on Regulatory Reform. While the administration proceeded to freeze adopting other new regulations, Icahn quickly succeeded in obtaining a special IRS rule that gives a tax break to his oil-refining company, CVR Energy. Icahn is simultaneously pushing for a regulatory fix that would revamp an EPA rule (the Renewable Fuel Standard), which currently makes refiners responsible for ensuring corn-based ethanol is properly mixed into gasoline. Eliminating that requirement would have saved his company more than $200 million last year. Icahn, whose $16.6 billion is a fortune larger than all the other cabinet members combined, claims immunity from such conflict-of-interest problems because he’s simply an “unpaid adviser” to the administration.
SECRETARY OF INTERIOR: RYAN ZINKE
“And there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. . . . And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died. . . . And the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.” —Revelation, 8:7,8, 9:2
My friend, Leonardo DiCaprio, a leading climate activist, gave a presentation to Trump soon after the election. He and DiCaprio Foundation president Terry Tamminen, the former Santa Monica BayKeeper and chief of California EPA under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, unveiled a plan for creating millions of jobs by encouraging the growth of clean, renewable energy. Looking at the plan approvingly, president-elect Trump told Leo that he wanted to be the twenty-first-century Teddy Roosevelt. Leo gave him a copy of his new documentary Before the Flood describing the perils of climate change, and the president-elect promised to watch it. Afterward, Leo learned that Trump’s team had announced the appointment of Scott Pruitt, while they were still in the meeting. Trump had warned Leo, “There are going to be some you will consider bad appointments.” But, he promised the actor, “You’re really gonna like who we put in for Interior.”
That environmental superhero turned out to be Ryan Zinke, a first-term congressman from Montana who also describes himself as “a Teddy Roosevelt guy.” But while Roosevelt dismantled Standard Oil, Zinke has spent his career suckling at the industry teat, gagging down $345,136 of oily money from petro interests. In the House, Zinke represented the Powder River Basin, a once edenic wilderness, transformed into a moonscape by federal coal-leasing policies, championed by Zinke. In fact, in recognition of his enthusiasm as a cheerleader for coal extraction, the League of Conservation Voters awarded Zinke a 3 percent score. In 2008, Zinke said he believed in climate change, but has since dutifully recanted, in goose-step with the Republican Party leadership. It isn’t “proven science,” he now insists.