Former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson explained his views on climate change to the Senate yesterday. Sort of.
In his quest to become the next secretary of State under Donald Trump, Tillerson endured a day of sometimes testy questioning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But despite several attempts — mostly from Democrats — to nail down Tillerson’s beliefs about climate science, his company’s history of research into global warming or the future of U.S. climate diplomacy, the longtime oilman managed to sidestep concrete responses.
So after more than seven hours of testimony — counting time off for lunch and breaks — there’s a lot the public still doesn’t know about Tillerson and climate change. Here’s a few:
What did Exxon officials know, and when did they know it?
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked Tillerson if Exxon knew of climate change in the 1970s and has taken positions at odds with the scientific consensus.
"Are these conclusions about Exxon Mobil’s history of promoting and funding climate science denial, despite its internal awareness of the reality of climate change during your tenure with the company, true or false?" Kaine asked.
Tillerson, who led Exxon from 2006 until just last month, said that was a question for the company. Kaine asked again. Tillerson again did not answer.
"Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question or are you refusing to answer my question?" Kaine asked.
"A little of both," Tillerson said, to chuckles in the chamber.
"I have a hard time believing that you lack the knowledge to answer my question," Kaine said.
The senator then asked if Tillerson had a confidential agreement barring him from discussing Exxon’s climate work. Tillerson said he didn’t know.
Will the Paris Agreement live or die under Tillerson?
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked Tillerson directly if he would want the United States to remain involved in global climate talks and the 2015 Paris Agreement struck last year among nearly 200 nations to curb global emissions.
"I think it’s important that the United States maintain its seat at the table on conversations around how to address threats of climate change, which do require a global response," Tillerson said.
That response seems at odds with Trump, who has said he would withdraw from the Paris accord. But then, Trump has also said he would "look at" staying in. Tillerson’s answer didn’t do much to clarify which way the president-elect is leaning.
Does Tillerson believe climate change is man-made?
Tillerson was similarly vague when asked about the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans cause global warming.
He maintained science is "inconclusive" in connecting a particular event to climate change and said without offering proof that climate models are often deeply inaccurate.
"The increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect," Tillerson told Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). "Our ability to predict that effect is very limited."
But he avoided saying anything about the role humans — their cars, factories and other burning of fossil fuels — play in driving emissions.
Tillerson did say he believes climate change isn’t a risk to Americans’ safety despite a sweeping report last year by national intelligence agencies predicting climate change will sow instability in foreign nations.
"I don’t see it as the eminent national security threat that perhaps others do," he said.