Trump’s Cabinet Represents the Fusion of Big Oil and State

Jamie Henn of 350.org says we can’t just fight Trump; we also must put pressure on state and local officials while challenging the political power of the fossil fuel industry

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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network, in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.

It’s been a big week for the fossil fuel industry in Washington. Former CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson was sworn in as Secretary of State. Former Texas Governor and oil industry darling, Rick Perry, has been approved by the Senate as the Secretary of Energy, and on Wednesday morning the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, suspended their own rules to advance the President’s nomination of Scott Pruitt for the next Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, in an 11 to 0 vote, despite the unprecedented boycott of the vote by all Democrats on the committee.

Now, Scott Pruitt has sued the EPA more than a dozen times over environmental regulations when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma. And here is the Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, John Barrasso, who is also the Senator of Wyoming, speaking about the Democratic boycott.

JOHN BARRASSO: Yesterday, February 1st, the minority blocked even having a vote in committee of the nominee. Attorney General Pruitt sat through the longest EPA nomination hearing in history and answered the most questions. The complaints about Attorney General Pruitt’s answers to questions is simply a smokescreen.

KIM BROWN: So, with us to discuss the new impending appointments to President Trump’s cabinet, we’re joined by Jamie Henn. He is the co-founder of 350.org. Welcome back to The Real News, Jamie.

JAMIE HENN: It’s good to be with you.

KIM BROWN: So, first of all, is this more than just political theatre on the part of the Democrats boycotting the committee vote on Scott Pruitt for head of the EPA? Because, well, I’m not asking you to speak on their behalf, and there are, you know, very legitimate concerns as to why he shouldn’t occupy the role, but was this just posturing on the part of the senate Democrats on this particular committee?

JAMIE HENN: Well, I think it was more than that. We were actually really pleased to see — the Democrats really showed some spine, and were willing to push back on someone like Pruitt. You know, it’s tough to block these nominations. They get passed for the simple majority vote, and the Republicans have the majority. So, there’s only so much the Democrats can do. They’re trying to convince just a few of their Republican colleagues, like Susan Collins, or people in more purple states, to back away from appointing someone as radical, and extreme as Scott Pruitt.

So, Democrats, I think, did what they could. It’s not enough to block these nominees, unless they can convince a Republican. But it does show the Democrats are willing to put up a fight and delay these things, push back, go to the American people, try and rally everybody to stand up against what this administration is doing. So, we need more of that, because these nominations are just kind of a trial run for all the policies that are going to be pushed forward.

So, I think it was good to see Democrats stand up and fight. It took some encouragement. I’ll put it that way. We need to keep pressure on the Democratic Party to stand up against these things and not just, you know, roll over on what Trump needs to do. And we hope to see more of it going forward.

KIM BROWN: So, could we possibly see the dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency with Trump as President, and Scott Pruitt as the head administrator?

JAMIE HENN: Yeah, most definitely. I mean, this is a real crisis on our hands. It’s hard to find even the words to describe how extreme and radical this agenda is. Scott Pruitt is an Attorney General who formed secret alliances with the fossil fuel industry to sue the EPA, and that’s not some left-wing conspiracy theory, that’s a front page of the New York Times. This is public knowledge. It came out and still the Republican Party pushed this through against the will of, I think, the American people who overwhelmingly support environmental regulations.

So, Scott Pruitt is coming into the EPA with an agenda to completely neuter the agency. To try and silence scientists, and really dismantle the agency from top to bottom, and its ability to enforce environmental regulations. There are still laws on the books that protect the EPA. There could be lawsuits to protect it. There will be a fight both without and within the agency. There’s already reports of agency employees and scientists who are trying to work together to get information out, and keep the public abreast of what’s going on behind closed doors, so that we can do our best to defend the EPA where we can.

But it’s going to be a real fight, and I think all of us will need to pay attention to, basically hold the line, over the next four years as best we can and try and make progress. And prepare to really take our country back as soon as possible. But this is going to be a hell of a fight, and seeing Scott Pruitt go should be a… If there wasn’t enough of a wake-up call already, we’re definitely awake now, to really make sure that we’re standing guard against all the different things that this administration plans to do.

KIM BROWN: And Jamie, let’s be clear, these people are not wasting any time. As of Thursday, today, the House Republicans, this is according to Time.com, House Republicans vote to end the rule stopping coal mining debris from being dumped in the streams. Jamie, are you guys familiar with this latest action by House Republicans on Thursday to move, to scuttle this rule that was put into place under President Obama?

JAMIE HENN: Yeah, completely. And I mean it has to be said, you know, these aren’t just policies. Some of these things, you know, you can have a political debate about how you want to price carbon, or something like that. Like, there are certain issues that are political issues, where having a debate on both sides totally makes sense. I mean, that’s what a democracy is all about. Then there are issues that are basic issues of morality, and respect, and human rights, and they have no qualms in ripping up those protections for our communities.

We work with a lot of organizations and grass root groups, and people all across Appalachia, who for years worked to build a bipartisan movement, to protect the waterways of that community. So that children weren’t drinking poisoned water, so that school kids weren’t at threat from big coal ash impoundments right above their schools, and so that we didn’t completely destroy the beauty of one of the most precious and beautiful regions of our country, those hillsides in Appalachia and those streams.

And Republicans just tore that up. They’re willing to just completely bury these stream beds, to completely poison water, to completely put kids’ health on the line, just to benefit an industry which is, frankly going down the tubes anyways — the coal industry. It’s sort of giving them one last hurrah, to cause as much damage as they can before every last company goes bankrupt. Because of other policies Republicans have been doing promoting fracking and natural gas.

So, it’s unacceptable, and I think that people will continue to push back as best we can and we need to keep making that case, because these things really are far outside the norm.

KIM BROWN: So, let’s shift to Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil and here is what Donald Trump had to say at his swearing in for Secretary of State.

DONALD TRUMP: You understand that the job of our diplomats and the mission of the State Department, is to serve the interests of the United States of America. To make our nation safer, our country more prosperous, and our people much more secure.

KIM BROWN: So, Jamie, if you could, discuss the link between climate change and conflicts such as the Syrian civil war, and the irony of the former CEO of a huge fossil fuel corporation being sworn in to make Americans more secure. All following Trump’s Executive Order banning immigrants, including refugees from seven, mostly Muslim majority countries.

JAMIE HENN: Yeah. No, I mean it’s the height of irony and hypocrisy. Under Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil pursued an agenda of climate misinformation and climate denial, to try and block progress and block an informed discussion about the links of climate change to issues like international conflict.

Let’s take the conflict in Syria. Obviously, there are many factors that lead to the type of civil war and violence that we’ve seen. But one of the largest of them was a terrible drought which gripped Syria, and the entire region for years. It displaced millions of people from farmland in Syria. Those millions of people streamed into cities. Many of them were young men who lost their jobs, who didn’t have any opportunities. Those people began to fall into conflict in those cities. That inflames ethnic conflict. It gives rise and gives fodder to groups that want to sew even more discord, and you had a regime that was looking to grip power at the same time.

Now, that creates a whole series of issues in that country that then explode into this civil war. And again, this is a conclusion that isn’t coming from far left-wing academics. It’s coming from the Pentagon, from military generals who have been warning about this for years. And now you have the CEO of a company who helped cause that conflict through their pollution; who helped work with foreign dictators to get more access to oil, and completely violated human rights in the process, now running our State Department and our foreign policy that’s supposed to address these problems.

Rex Tillerson helped create this refugee crisis, and now he’s slamming the door in those people’s faces. So, it’s a travesty and something that again, we’re going to need to fight back against as we go forward here.

KIM BROWN: And that’s a very good point, because the question remains, should Tillerson’s past record with Exxon and what they have been responsible for, in terms of destabilizing the world, should this have even excluded him from the position as Secretary of State to begin with?

JAMIE HENN: Yes, certainly. I mean, it certainly should have. I think people have to know something about ExxonMobil too. This is not like Rex Tillerson had a job at Exxon for a couple years. He was at Exxon for 40 years. It’s been his only job. It is his entire adult life. And Exxon is a company which is known for having an almost cult-like behaviour. Their own employees refer to the company as “Mother Exxon”. They call their headquarters the “Death Star”.

You know, this is a company that cultivates long-term loyalty, and Rex Tillerson was the number one guy there. So, the idea that he suddenly is going to take off his Exxon hat and be a, you know, Secretary of State for the American people, as opposed to the fossil fuel industry, is completely bogus. Anybody that knows the company or has followed that, would never believe that in a heartbeat. So, we are looking at the fusion of our government and big oil. ExxonMobil is running our foreign policy. That is incredibly dangerous. It also, I think, should be clarified for us.

We should not think of these two things as separate anymore. We need to think of them as one, and if there’s any glimmer of hope in that, it’s that the American people will start to realize that Trump and the fossil fuel industry really are one thing. And that when we, hopefully sooner rather than later, push out Trump, we should also push out the likes of ExxonMobil — try and break that strangle-hold that big oil has on our government. And start really moving forward with a climate and clean energy policy that won’t only be good here in the United States, but also will help reduce conflict and improve security around the world.

KIM BROWN: Hmm. Jamie, there’s been some discussion about the criminalization of dissent, with some localities actually proposing bills that would criminalize peaceful protests. So, are you guys fearful at 350.org that this is already happening, as we saw with the arrest of journalists at Inauguration Day, and obviously with your organization and others, being subpoenaed for your emails and correspondence, as it relates to climate change data by the Chairman of the House Science Committee, Lamar Smith? And what can be done about this seeming, impending infringement on people’s individual, and organizations’ right to speech and protest?

JAMIE HENN: Yeah. No, it’s a really big threat and it’s something that we’re trying to pay close attention to and really partner, not only across the climate and environmental movement, but also with our allies at social justice organizations and with civil liberties organizations as well.

We’ve seen laws being passed in places like North Dakota, where people know there’s been the ongoing struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. There’s a law proposed there that not only criminalizes and raises huge fines for any protestor related to the fossil fuel industry, but also will let people off, if someone hits, and even kills a protestor in their motor vehicle. If that protestor was on the highway, that driver won’t be charged.

You know, this is sanctioning, basically, attacks on non-violent demonstrators. This is happening right now, and not just in North Dakota, but in states across the country. So, we’re going to need to push back on that, but I think… I guess my message to people watching this, who are activists, who care about this, is we need to be involved at the state level as well. It’s easy, and it’s appropriate, to be concerned about what Trump is doing, and follow that and be distracted by that and overwhelmed by that. But stuff is happening at the states as well, and that’s just as much of a threat. That’s where a lot of law enforcement decisions are made. It’s not in the White House, but in our cities and in our states.

And we need to be on guard to that, and I think go on the offense, as much as possible there, to push forward the type of laws that will protect dissent, to strengthen our civil liberties laws so that we’ll be able to push back on this administration. But again, it’s a lot of work to be done, but that’s what we’re facing. I think we need to get real about that.

It’s not going to be enough to just protest what’s going on in the White House, if we’re not on guard for what is also going on in State Houses, from politicians who are far-right politicians, who now feel newly empowered by the likes of Bannon and Trump. To start passing things that they’d never dreamed would be possible before, but now they feel like maybe they can sneak through, because of the political climate that’s out there.

KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with Jamie Henn. He is the co-founder of 350.org. We’ve been discussing the swearing in of our new Secretary of State, former ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson and the soon-to-be-inevitable appointment of Scott Pruitt, former Attorney General for Oklahoma, who has sued the EPA over a dozen times, will now be heading the EPA. Jamie, we appreciate your time today, thanks a lot.

JAMIE HENN: Thanks a lot.

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

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