Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
May. 04, 2017 09:40AM EST
Horsemen of the Apocalypse
This is an excerpt from Dick Russell’s and my new book, Horsemen of the Apocalypse, an eye opening exposé of the people and corporations most responsible for today’s climate crisis and their roles in President Trump’s new administration.
Not long ago, the legendary economist Amory Lovins showed me two photos, taken 10 years apart, of the New York City Easter Parade. A 1903 shot looking north from midtown showed Fifth Avenue crowded with a hundred horse and buggies and a solitary automobile. The second, taken in 1913 from a similar vantage on the same street, depicted a traffic jam of automobiles and a single lonely horse and buggy.
That momentous shift occurred because, over a 13-year period, Henry Ford dropped the nominal price of the Model-T by 62 percent. While wealthy New Yorkers led the transition, the remainder of America quickly followed. Between 1918 and 1929, according to Stanford University lecturer Tony Seba, American car ownership rocketed from eight percent of Americans to eighty percent – because DuPont and General Motors devised a financial innovation called car loans, which soon accounted for three quarters of auto purchases. The buggy drivers never saw it coming.
Compare that platform for disruption to the economic fundamentals of today’s solar industry. Over the past five years, photovoltaic module prices have dropped 80 percent, and analogous home solar financing innovations have spread like wildfire. Three-quarters of California’s rooftop solar has been innovatively financed, with no money down, including the system I installed on my own home. NRG Solar leased me a rooftop solar array with zero cost to myself and a guaranteed sixty percent drop in my energy bills for twenty years. Who wouldn’t take that deal? And solar costs continue to drop every day.
Dramatic drops have also plummeted the cost of utility-scale solar plants to around $1 billion a gigawatt. Compare this to the $3 to $5 billion per gigawatt cost of constructing a new coal or gas plant, and the $6 to 9 billion per gigawatt cost for a nuclear plant. We can make energy by burning prime rib if we choose to, but any rational utility seeking the cheapest, safest form of energy is going to choose wind or solar. That’s why, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in the first eleven months of 2016 renewables constituted more than 50 percent of newly installed electrical generation capacity—surpassing natural gas, nuclear power, coal and oil combined. Let’s face facts. The carbon incumbents are looking at their own imminent apocalypse.
And the real savings for solar and wind comes at the back end—ZERO FUEL COSTS! Unlimited photons rain down on the earth every day for free. Transitioning to clean fuel only requires that we build the infrastructure to harvest and distribute the photons. That infrastructure will bless America with a magical promised era of “free fuel forever.”
Internal combustion engines are racing toward the same kind of apocalyptic disruption as the horse and buggy. According to calculations by John Walker of the Rocky Mountain Institute, the current operating cost of an electric car is about one-tenth the cost of an internal combustion engine. The range and performance of EVs now exceeds those of traditional gasoline cars. That’s why the world’s 15 top auto companies all launched new EVs in 2015. If you believe in free markets, then the day of the internal combustion engine is over.
The markets have already seen the future. The top 50 coal companies are now either in Chapter 11 bankruptcy or on the brink. The three largest coal companies—Arch, Consol and Peabody—have lost 80 percent of their value over the last two years. Looking at these landscapes, Lovins remarked to me, “The meteor has hit. The dinosaurs are doomed. It’s just that some of them are still walking around causing trouble.”
With these rich indices of imminent change, America, prior to the 2016 election, was on the verge of leading the global transformation away from destructive reliance on the dirtiest, filthiest, poisonous, addictive, war-mongering fuels from hell, to a sunny new age of innovation and entrepreneurship, of abundant and dignified jobs, of a democratized energy system and widespread wealth creation, powered by the clean, green, healthy, wholesome and patriotic fuels from heaven.
Renewable energy like wind and solar create high paying jobs, promote small businesses, create wealth, democratize our energy sector, give us local, resilient power and reduce dependence on foreign carbon. They are therefore good for the economy, good for our national security and good for democracy and our country.
And every American will benefit from the cornucopia of economic and political bounties that accompany a decarbonized nation—no more poisoned air and water, but clean rivers and bountiful oceans, with fish that are safe to eat. No more exploded mountain ranges. No more crippling oil spills in the Gulf, in Alaska or Santa Barbara. No more worries about acid rain deforesting our purple mountains majesty and sterilizing our lakes. No more fretting about acidified oceans destroying our coral reefs, and collapsing global food chains and fisheries. No more ozone and particulate pollution sickening and killing millions of our citizens. No more damaged crops and corroding buildings. No more tyrannical petro-states subjugating their peoples and victimizing their neighbors. And no more oil wars.
While enticing to most Americans and consistent with the historical idealism of an exemplary nation, this portrait of the future represents a fearful nightmare for a certain segment of our population—a segment that is willing to mount all-out civil war to prevent it from happening, an apocalyptic war that threatens to sacrifice the planet.
And we are engaged, as Abraham Lincoln declared, “In a great Civil War.” In the 1860s, it took a bloody Civil War for America to transition away from an archaic and immoral energy system—one dependent on free human labor. In 1865, the entrenched interests who profited from that system were willing to sacrifice our country and half a million lives to maintain their profits.
This time, instead of a slave-holding gentry, the entrenched defenders of the system are the carbon tycoons described by Dick Russell in Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These are the apocalyptic forces of ignorance and greed that are out to liquidate our planet for cash.
Russell shows that, to the extent they have a moral compass, it’s pointed straight at hell. Like the Horsemen from the Book of Revelation, these actions are herding humanity toward a dystopian nightmare of their creation. The archetypal Horsemen are David and Charles Koch, whom you will meet in Chapter Eight. Koch Industries, you will learn, is not a benign corporation. It’s the template of ‘disaster capitalism,’ the command center of an organized scheme to undermine democracy and impose a corporate kleptocracy that will allow greedy billionaires to cash in on mass extinction in our biosphere and the end of civilization. To the Koch brothers, the renewable revolution is their personal apocalypse that must be averted at all costs.
With their industry bereft of its economic rationale, the only way the carbon incumbents can maintain their economic dominance is by deploying their wealth and political power to subdue the market forces, to delay and derail cheap efficient renewables and to impose a continued dependence on expensive and inefficient oil and coal, through massive economic interventions managed by their political toadies. The Koch brothers have become the masterminds of this strategy. They sit at the apex of the richest industry in the history of the planet, and control the largest privately owned oil company on Earth. Their strategic advantage in the battle over the future of our energy system includes their enormous personal wealth and the wealth and power of the companies they control. Their carefully cultivated political connections and, above all, societal inertia, fortified by $23 trillion of carbon infrastructure, that impedes America’s transition to a new energy economy. While owned by the industry, that infrastructure, ironically, was primarily paid for by taxpayers. These form the carbon cartel’s principal arsenals in the great civil war.
As economic forecasts for the industry have grown increasingly dire over the past decade, the carbon cartel has moved frantically to build more infrastructure including LNG facilities, refineries, coal and oil export terminals and rail terminals, in order to bind up America in 16,000 miles of new pipeline that will further shackle our country, ironbound, to an archaic and destructive fossil fuel economy long after any economic rationale for coal, oil or gas have expired. The infrastructure strategy effectively recruits bankers, pension funds and Wall Street financial houses to the side of antiquated carbon, in this civil war. The only hope for those investors to recoup their investments is if oil flows continuously through those pipelines for the next 30 years.
Dick Russell largely completed this book a month before the 2016 presidential election. Four weeks later, to his great surprise, the Horsemen described in these pages assumed the pinnacle of power. With the central goal of preserving their fossil fuel profits, they guided an inexperienced president on a course that rapidly collapsed the foundations of America’s moral authority and idealism, and fundamentally altered the relationship between America and the world—including our reputation as a global force for good. Their reigning foreign policy posture was an indifference to America’s traditional concerns with justice, democracy and climate; to our historic skepticism toward tyrants; and to those traditional alliances that have promoted global stability since World War II. Domestically, Trump’s advisors turned their attention to dismantling the science safety net and commoditizing and monetizing every aspect of human discourse—adopting policies that will amplify the wealth of billionaires, even as they sicken our citizens and destroy our planet. The Book of Revelation described the Four Horsemen as war, conquest, pestilence and death. Donald Trump’s choice, to invite a group of conscienceless oil men to govern the country, has brought such chilling metaphors to the foreground, as more than an obscure biblical reference.
In the summer of 2016, it seemed that a convoy of clown cars was transporting Donald Trump, in what would become his unlikely blitzkrieg toward the GOP nomination. I was oddly relieved. Like other Americans, I believed that Donald Trump would be an easy candidate to stop in the November General Election. More importantly, Trump didn’t seem as purposefully malicious toward the future of the planet as were his principal rivals, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Rick Perry. I had known Donald Trump for many years. I had successfully sued to block him from building two golf courses in the New York upstate reservoir watershed. I knew he was no friend of the environment, but neither did he appear to be ideologically hidebound to a pro-pollution world view. Indeed, he seemed less shackled to dogma, or obligated by encumbrances than any other Republican presidential candidate. He had no obvious fealty to the oil industry. Alone among the 17 rivals for the Republican nomination, Trump had never taken money from the oil and gas tycoons. Most comforting, there seemed to be a deep gulf of enmity between Trump and the billionaire Koch brothers, the undisputed leaders of Russell’s Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Taken together, Charles and David Koch, with $48 billion apiece, are the richest men on Earth, according to Forbes‘ latest list. (Bill Gates has $86 billion). The siblings’ father, Fred Koch, had made a fortune building refineries for Hitler and Stalin and used his money to co-found the racist John Birch Society. The boys, Charles and David, have deployed their oil-and-gas fortune to bankroll an array of think-tanks and politicians opposing clean energy and remedial action on climate change.
Teddy Roosevelt observed that American democracy could never be destroyed by a foreign foe. But he warned that our defining democratic institutions would be subverted from within by “malefactors of great wealth.”
Because of their singular focus and limitless wealth, I considered David and Charles Koch, rather than this orange haired GOP candidate, the greatest threat to American democracy. Politics is driven by both money and political intensity. While they have plenty of money, the Koch brothers’ policy agenda—tax breaks for the rich, unregulated pollution and permanent national reliance on dirty fuels—does not make an attractive vessel for populism. In order to recruit ground troops, the Koch brothers have made themselves wizards in the alchemy of demagoguery, wielding evangelical religion, dog-whistle race baiting, and patriotism as flypaper to their cause. They have built extensive organizations to engineer a hostile takeover of our democracy by polluting corporations.
In her book Dark Money, Jayne Mayer shows how the two oil men conceived and funded the Tea Party movement, which hijacked the Republican party and drove it to the far right. In order to consolidate power over the past two decades, they worked out and financed a methodical project to take over state legislatures. Their lucre and organizing machine have helped to give right wing Republicans control of 67 of 98 legislatures—the bodies that draw up election districts. With those levers in hand, their lackeys in the various state capitals use gerrymandering, voter fraud, voter ID laws and mass voter purges, to engineer permanent Republican majorities on the state and federal level. Their Tea Party movement took over the U.S. Congress—and blocked Obama’s environmental agenda with the resilience fortified by their control of the statehouses. But the biggest electoral prize the Koch brothers had yet to achieve was to have their candidate take the White House, with the power to populate and dismantle the agencies, primarily Energy, Interior and EPA, that regulate—and bedevil—the Kochs’ industries. They had many willing errand boys among the Republican presidential field, and, with one notable orange-topped exception, just about all of the GOP candidates had made the pilgrimage to Wichita to genuflect and kiss the rings at Koch headquarters.
The Koch brothers claim, in their rhetoric, to embrace a theology of free market capitalism. But if you look at their feet instead of listening to the seductive noises that issue from their mouths, or the glossy pronouncements of their phony think tanks, the truth is clear; these men despise free markets. Instead, they advocate for a system of cushy socialism for the rich, and a savage, merciless, dystopian capitalism for the poor. The real purpose of the ‘think tanks’ they created and fund—such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute—is not to promote free market capitalism, but to gin up the philosophical underpinnings for a scheme of unrestrained corporate profit taking, and a destructive national addiction to carbon based fuels upon which their fortunes rely.
As discussed earlier, new renewable technologies are now so efficient that wind and solar generation and electric cars are beating their carbon-based competitors, even in the rigged markets and on slanted playing fields. Carbon’s economic model is looking at the same bleak future the horse and buggy industry faced in 1903. So what do you do when your profits rely on a fading economic model? If you are the unscrupulous Koch brothers, you deploy your money as campaign contributions – a legalized form of bribery—to get your hooks into a public official who will allow you to privatize the commons, dismantle the market-place and rig the rules to give you monopoly control. Renewable energy sources and free markets pose an existential threat to the Koch’s business model. So the Kochs have deployed their front group, ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council—in every state, working with local legislators to create public subsidies for oil infrastructure, and to weaken support for wind and solar. The Koch brothers’ purpose in purchasing our political system is to engineer monumental subsidies and market failure, which are their formulae for profit.
The Kochs’ political ascendancy was facilitated by another oilman, George W. Bush. A decade ago, I wrote a best-selling book, Crimes Against Nature, detailing Bush’s war against the environment. As is almost always the case, environmental catastrophe was preceded, in the Bush debacle, by the subversion of democracy. Bush landed in the White House after a stacked Supreme Court, dominated by his father’s appointees, issued a partisan 4-3 decision freezing the 2000 election Florida vote count that would have shown Bush losing both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Bush thereby stole the presidency from Senator Al Gore, the greenest presidential candidate in our history.
That decision turned the White House over to two Texas oilmen, Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, who was the CEO of oil service company Halliburton and the owner of millions of dollars of Halliburton stock, which would appreciate enormously during Cheney’s administration. Seventeen of the top twenty-one people in the new administration hailed from the oil patch or allied industries. Bush’s Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was on the board of Chevron, which named an oil tanker after her. His ascendancy to the Presidency was the beginning of a hostile takeover of our government by the oil industry, which would finally be completed by President Trump.
Transforming America into a petro-state was not just bad for the environment, it was a disaster for American democracy. Cheney immediately convened 90 days of secret meetings with carbon and nuclear industry CEOs, during which he invited the nation’s worst polluters to rewrite environmental laws to make it easy to drill, to burn, to extract, to frack, to ship and to distribute, carbon fuel. It was an all-out victory for the carbon industry and an unconditional defeat for humanity. Even as they dismantled America’s environmental laws, Bush and Cheney stocked the regulatory agencies with industry lackeys and profiteering cronies who weakened and auctioned off America’s public lands and forests to their campaign contributors, at fire sale prices.
The oil and coal industries, are, by nature, authoritarian. A nation’s political system generally reflects the economic organization of its principal industries. In a dynamic known as the ‘resource curse,’ nations dominated by carbon industries customarily tilt toward autocracy and away from democracy. When oil money merges with political power, the outcome is almost always the same: yawning gaps between rich and poor; the expansion of military, police and intelligence apparatus; the diminution of civil and human rights; the disappearance of transparency and public participation in government; the expanded popularity of torture, detention and eavesdropping; the use of nationalistic propaganda and deceit to win elections, and to justify unpopular politics; and an aggressive, bellicose and imperialistic foreign policy. Under George W. Bush, the carbon cronies quickly bent U.S. foreign and domestic policies to serve Big Oil’s bottom line.
The White House lied America into an oil war that killed a million Iraqis and almost 4,500 US soldiers, and maimed tens of thousands more. Bush and Cheney cut taxes on the wealthy and charged their $4.3 trillion war on a credit card for our children to pay. Meanwhile, we lost eight critical years in the battle to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. The oilmen who helped bring Bush to power profited like princes from his policies. As a gesture of gratitude to our country, the oil companies raised gasoline prices and watched company profits soar to historic highs. Patriotism is great—so long as it pays!
But perhaps the most grievous wound to American democracy from the mayhem of the Bush presidency was the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Bush appointed two right wing corporatist U.S. Supreme Court Justices—John G. Roberts in 2005 and Samuel Alito in 2006. These men were not traditional conservatives. The only consistent thread running through their judicial decisions was the consistent elevation of corporate power. The “Citizens United” decision was the most sweeping expansion of corporate power this century. That case effectively overruled a century of corporate campaign finance restrictions that limited a corporation’s ability to purchase federal political candidates. Citizen’s United unleashed a tsunami of corporate cash in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, when an estimated $2 billion was spent in the race to capture the White House.
The nearly $760 million that the Koch brothers, alone, put into the national elections in 2016 is comparable to the total amount spent, historically, by either political party. Their campaign organization was nearly as formidable as the Republican party with 1,200 election operatives. Election data show that in 95% of federal elections, the candidate with the most money wins. So democracy is for sale and, predictably, the rich are buying themselves politicians, and then deploying them to reduce taxes on their class and to rid themselves of pesky regulations that protect public health and the common environment. Under this new rubric, the representatives and senators who dominate Congress can no longer be thought of as public servants. They are the indentured servants of the Koch brothers and their ilk, engaged in the mercenary enterprise of ransacking America and humanity on behalf of Big Oil. America has transitioned from the world’s model democracy to a corporate kleptocracy.
So the Kochs’ open disavowal of Donald Trump during the presidential campaign was a comfort to me. Charles Koch compared the Trump-Hillary race as a choice “between cancer and a heart attack.” Trump, in turn, derided his Republican rivals as Koch “puppets.” I was relieved by the wide and hostile rift between Trump and the Kochs. Perhaps, I thought, America was safe, for the moment, from the existential threat of having oil tycoons again control our government. So it was breathtaking how quickly president-elect Trump pivoted, against the populism that he rode to power, and into the welcoming arms of Wall Street robber barons, oil patch tycoons and flat earth oligarchs he had vilified along the way, including the despised Koch brothers. Even before inauguration day, he got busy turning our government over to the apocalyptical forces of ignorance and greed.
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, like 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 – 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 33 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 U.S. 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 about the Peabody CEO in Chapter Seven 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 EPA will jettison the dreaded “social cost of carbon” algorithm used to calculate the costs and benefits of climate change.
In December, 800 U.S. 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 USA 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 world view 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 one 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 and 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 which I serve as president. Waterkeeper, which works in 38 countries, has submitted a 54-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 under-ground oil reserves, that include some of the dirtiest fuels on Earth. The Securities and Exchange Commission and several states attorneys’ generals, 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 share 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 three 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 as humanity [read Exxon] suffers.”
In late January, Tillerson’s State Department removed the three most recent annual reports about the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan from its website.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator: 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 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.
Calvin Coolidge famously remarked that, “The chief business of the America people is business.” Trump has made it clear that business is to be 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 XL 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 Six). 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 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 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,” he said.
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) that 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 the 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 the Leonardo 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 21st 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 three 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.
Secretary of Energy: Rick Perry
“….and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.” — Revelation, 6:12.
Modest support and research progress for wind and solar efficiency have long made the Department of Energy a bugaboo to the fossil fuel cartel. Four years ago, Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, promised to abolish the department that President Trump has now appointed him to lead. Oil and gas tycoons funded his two presidential campaigns. The CEO of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), Kelcy Warren, the owners of Dakota Access Pipeline, donated $5 million to a pro-Perry super-PAC during the 2016 race. When Perry’s run for the White House fizzled, he accepted a sinecure as a paid board member of ETP (receiving $236,820 in 2015). Warren went on to contribute $103,000 to Trump’s campaign. Perry sold his shares after the election to avoid “conflict of interest.” President Trump also had a personal stake in that notorious pipeline. He invested nearly $1 million in Energy Transfer Partners in 2015 and last year between $250,000 and $500,000 in Phillips 66, which owns a 25 percent stake in the catastrophic boondoggle. Perry quickly proved himself a trustworthy manager of Trump’s investment by presiding over the project’s resurrection.
CIA Director: Mike Pompeo
“….four beasts full of eyes before and behind.” — Revelation, 4:6.
Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, an errand boy, appointed by the Koch brothers to represent their Wichita hometown in Congress, is President Trump’s CIA chief. He received more campaign donations from the Kochs than any other member of Congress. Pompeo is a Tea Party shill, so enthralled by the Warfare State and so out of touch with American values, that from his seat on the House Intelligence Committee, he paid sunny homage to the CIA’s brutal detention and interrogation programs. Pompeo’s chief of staff, Jim Richardson, was a former Koch lobbyist. When Pompeo entered the House in 2011, his first order of business was opposing the Obama administration’s plan to create a public EPA registry of greenhouse gas polluters. Later, Pompeo introduced legislation to kill tax credits for wind power, saying it should “compete on its own,” an idea aggressively promoted by the Koch brothers, whose oil and coal enterprises are heavily subsidized by billions of dollars in federal taxpayer lucre. (A recent report by the International Monetary Fund calculates global energy subsidies at over $5 trillion annually, with the U.S. providing $700 billion in subsidies to Big Oil, the richest industry in the history of the planet.)
Foreign policy experts warn that close historical ties between the CIA and the oil industry have led America into its most catastrophic foreign policy disasters. Instead of serving the American people and our national historic ideals, the Agency has, since the days of Allen Dulles, a former oil company lawyer, routinely deployed its awesome power to serve the mercantile interests of oil companies and US based multinationals. Our volatile relationship with Iran began, in 1953, when the CIA overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, that region’s first democratically elected leader in four thousand years, as a favor to U.S. and British oil corporations, which derailed Mossadegh’s plan to allow his people to benefit from Iran’s oil resources. Catastrophic blowback from that dark episode continues to reverberate across the Mid-East today.
The Iraq War—fueled in part by U.S. eagerness to grab control of Saddam Hussein’s oil fields—not only killed nearly 4,500 Americans, but continues to destabilize the entire region. The Syrian civil war and refugee disaster are largely the result of the CIA taking sides in a pipeline dispute, between Sunni and Shia, a debacle that fueled the creation of ISIS. The unseemly ties between Big Oil and the intelligence service of this country have stained our reputation, eroded our moral authority, made us the target of terrorist attacks, and led us into costly blowbacks, with surcharges in American blood, treasure and prestige, beyond calculation. At a time in our history when we should be de-coupling our foreign policy from Big Oil, we’ve got the oil industry’s most visible tycoon since John D. Rockefeller running the State Department and an oil-man’s sock puppet running the CIA.
“And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree….” — Revelation, 9:4.
During his first weeks in power, President Trump kept his promises to the carbon cartel. I watched thirty-three years of my work reduced to ruins, as the president mounted his assault on science and environmental protection. The new administration hit the ground running, announcing plans to eliminate funding for NASA’s climate research programs. At EPA, president-elect Trump’s transition team launched a Soviet style purge of climate change scientists, demanding a list of every employee or contractor who had attended meetings of the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon—and all materials that were distributed or generated afterward. Trump advisors demanded that Foggy Bottom diplomats disclose monies that the State Department provided to international environmental groups (for example, as part of the Paris climate agreement, the U.S. pledged three billion dollars to a Green Climate Fund designed to help poor countries develop renewable energy and adapt to climate change) – presumably to target them for erasure.
In response to these attacks, a newly created Climate Science Legal Defense Fund published a guide for government researchers targeted for attack and censure as its government scientists worked feverishly to preserve decades of critical research.
The new president quickly signed legislation abolishing rules that forbade coal companies from filling streams and buffer zones with mining waste, putting thousands of miles of rivers and streams at risk from this formerly outlawed practice. He issued an executive order to rescind a 2015 rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands, and a directive to abolish protracted environmental reviews.
He announced measures to stop the environmental impact statement required before the Dakota Access Pipeline could be constructed, and then instructed the Army corps of Engineers to give Energy Transfer Partners an easement to forge ahead with the tragic project across Sioux lands. Trump also set out to resurrect the Keystone XL oil pipeline stopped by the Obama administration after a massive public outcry. In late March, Tillerson’s State Department approved moving forward with construction. The 1,700-mile-long pipeline will propel an estimated 35 million gallons of dirty oil every single day from Alberta, Canada’s Tar Sands, across American aquifers to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The Koch brothers hold close to two million acres of those tar sands, more than the combined assets in the area of ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Conoco.
The new president instructed EPA to promulgate regulations to kill Obama’s hard-won Clean Power Plant rule, the law that finally restricted carbon emissions from power plants. The new administration moved to open protected federal lands for drilling and mining, and to lift a moratorium on coal leases on federal lands.
In mid-March, Trump directed the EPA to get rid of another of Obama’s signature achievements – stringent fuel economy standards passed to help meet America’s international commitment to cut carbon emissions. This drastic policy reversal not only makes it impossible for the United States to comply with the Paris accord, but also jeopardizes America’s booming lead in the electric vehicles industry.
The next day, Trump sent a proposed budget to Congress that would slash the EPA’s funding by 31 percent and lay off about one fifth of its staff. The White House will cut the climate protection budget by nearly 70 percent to $29 million. Virtually eliminated are the environmental justice program, established in 1992, and the Chesapeake Bay Program, established in 1983 to clean up the largest estuary in North America. Also on the scrap heap is the Energy Star program that has saved consumers an estimated $430 billion on their utility bills and avoided 2.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. President Trump’s so called “apocalypse budget” guts funding to the United Nations for its climate change efforts, cuts 17 percent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate data program and eliminates the Sea Grant program that prepares coastal communities for storms and sea level rise. While slashing America’s environmental protection, Trump moved to pump up military spending by another $54 billion.
Meantime, Scott Pruitt got busy distributing his top EPA jobs to America’s most vehement climate science skeptics, including three former staffers of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who called global warming, “The greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” In his first speech to EPA employees, Pruitt scolded his new employees to improve the agency’s relationship with private businesses. He omitted all mention of protecting public health or the environment. In a speech before a gathering of conservatives, Pruitt applauded the polluters who want to eliminate his agency altogether as “justified”: he added, “People across the country look at the EPA the way they look at the IRS.”
Pruitt, interviewed on CNBC on March 9, reassured the network that carbon emissions are not, after all, the “primary contributor” to climate change. That day, NOAA announced that the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere rose at a record pace for the second year in a row and President Trump announced his scheme to zero out NOAA’s climate change research budget.
Trump and Pruitt have expressed intense hostility toward federal protection of the environment. They mean to return us to the era before Federal Environmental laws; the era before Earth Day when states were engaged in a wholesale race to the bottom to eliminate regulation to recruit filthy industries. The era when rivers caught fire and pollution killed tens of thousands of animals annually, DDT exterminated entire populations of birds and Lake Erie was declared dead. With no federal control, states will once again compete with each other to become pollution havens in exchange for a few years of pollution based prosperity.
This hijack of American democracy by oil tycoons is a suicide pact for our planet. We are already living in a science fiction nightmare when all credible scientists are saying that their former predictions on global warming were radically conservative. The cataclysms they warned would happen in a century or two are happening now. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cautions that if we conduct business as usual—our current course—our planet will experience a six-degree Celsius temperature rise by the turn of the next century. The last time that earth was six degrees warmer, crocodiles lived at the North Pole.
Today, there are over seven billion humans on the planet, few of whom will be able to adjust and survive the concomitant floods, storms, typhoons and hurricanes, intensified by climate change. Children, now alive, will suffer dystopian global upheavals beyond human experience, or the capacity of organized civilizations to endure. Our great coastal cities will be drowned by sea level rise; multitudes will starve when lands become arid and lifeless; homes and businesses will succumb to forest fires of increasing frequency; children will suffer or die from insect borne diseases such as microcephaly, spreading rapidly to formerly temperate regions of the Earth, as tropical insects multiply; millions will suffer from food shortages as crops fail due to changing climate conditions. These impacts emerge straight from The Book of Revelation, extreme weather on a biblical scale—destructive droughts, lethal superstorms, floods, fires, melting glaciers, rising seas, drowning cities, disappearing species.
Whether we recognize it or not, we are all locked in a life and death struggle with these corporations over control of both our landscapes and political sovereignty. The Kochs’ corporate vision for our country would commodify not just the land, the air and the water, but also our people. Everything we value becomes expendable in their drive for corporate profits. “To greed,” Seneca observed, “all nature is insufficient.” That hunger will devour our people, our natural world and the other assets of our patrimony. Corporate efforts to privatize the commons are occurring in all parts of the world and it’s no accident that environmental injury correlates almost perfectly with political tyranny; and those carbon tyrants would steal from us our air, our water, our wildlife, fisheries and public lands, the shared resources of our society – the commonwealth assets that provide the gravitas around which communities coalesce.
The battle against President Trump and his Horsemen is not just a battle to protect our waterways, our livelihoods, our property and our backyards. It’s a struggle for our sovereignty, our values, our health and our lives. It’s a battle for dignified, humane and wholesome communities. It’s a defensive war against toxic and economic aggression by Big Oil and King Coal. It’s a struggle to break free of the merciless tyranny of the carbon cartel and create an economic and energy system that is fair, and rooted in justice, economic independence and freedom.
If we’re to leave behind a habitable world, the Horsemen need to be reined in, bridled and broken.
The earth mourns and withers,
The world pines and fades,
Both heaven and earth languish.
The land lies polluted,
Defiled by its inhabitants
Who have transgressed the laws,
Violated the ordinances,
And broken the covenant.
Therefore a curse consumes the land
And its people burn for their guilt.
— Isaiah 24:4-6