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Musk Takes Heat for Surprising Shout-Out to Tillerson

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Tesla Energy CEO Elon Musk is taking criticism from leading U.S. climate hawks for his suggestion that ex-Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson might do just fine as United States secretary of state.

Tillerson, who’s almost certain to receive Senate confirmation as the country’s top diplomat, received the unexpected boost last week, when Musk tweeted: “This may sound surprising coming from me,” but “Rex Tillerson has the potential to be an excellent Sec of State.”

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Climate scientist Michael Mann responded head-on. “You are a hero to so many climate activists, Elon,” he tweeted. “Please don’t lend your imprimatur to an ExxonMobil-driven foreign policy.” Musk replied: “I’m just saying that we should see what happens first. The actions may be surprising.”

On Gizmodo, the serial entrepreneur elaborated that “Tillerson obviously did a competent job running Exxon, one of the largest companies in the world. In that role, he was obligated to advance the cause of Exxon and did. In the Sec of State role, he is obligated to advance the cause of the U.S., and I suspect he probably will.”

Musk referred to Tillerson’s support for carbon pricing and his acknowledgement that climate change is happening, adding that “the more voices of reason the President hears, the better. Simply attacking him will achieve nothing. Are you aware of a single case where Trump bowed to protests or media attacks? Better that there are open channels of communication.”

The exchange prompted a tart response from Joe Romm, founding editor of the Climate Progress blog.

“To be ‘excellent’, Tillerson would have to persuade Trump, who campaigned on killing the landmark Paris climate deal, to reverse himself and agree to even deeper cuts in CO2 emissions (and thus fossil fuels) in the next round of international talks,” Romm writes. “At the same time, the continued success of the Paris agreement would be devastating to the company Tillerson devoted his entire adult life to.”

Romm points to the mass resignation last week of senior Secretary of State employees as “a vote of no-confidence by the career foreign service officers who keep the place running,” citing details Thursday in the Washington Post.

“It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember,” said ex-State Department chief of staff David Wade. “Department expertise in security, management, administrative, and consular positions in particular is very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector.