Musk Makes Good on Pledge to Dump Trump Over Paris

Updated on
  • Leaving Paris ‘not good for America or the world,’ Musk tweets
  • Retribution from president seen unlikely as CEO has company

What the U.S. Departure Means for the Paris Agreement

Elon Musk finally pulled the plug on Donald Trump

Musk, who has become the American icon of clean-energy by leading electric-car maker Tesla Inc., said Thursday he’d leave two White House advisory councils after the president’s decision to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate accord. 

“Climate change is real,” the 45-year-old entrepreneur tweeted. “Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”

Elon Musk

Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg

Musk’s ties to Trump had muddied his public image and dismayed supporters who wanted him to follow Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Travis Kalanick in stepping down from a similar White House advisory role. Some customers canceled $1,000 reservations for Tesla’s upcoming Model 3 electric car and billboards sprang up in California urging Musk to “Dump Trump.”

Read more: This Man Is Spending Millions to Break Elon Musk’s Trump Ties

Until recently, the South African-born Musk, CEO of both Tesla and rocket builder SpaceX, insisted on keeping a seat at the table to engage the president. He stayed on the White House councils despite Trump’s executive orders that attempted to ban travel to the U.S. from predominantly Muslim countries to argue both for immigration and clean energy.

Just last week, Musk tweeted he had spoken directly to Trump about Paris and that he was “cautiously optimistic of a positive decision.” Trump’s Paris announcement suggested Musk had struck out in his efforts to influence the president.

As the CEO of a company with the stated mission to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,” tolerating Trump’s withdrawal proved a bridge too far.

‘Right Call’

“It’s the right call on Elon’s part,” said Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist whose claim to fame includes a paper outlining the so-called hockey-stick chart of alarming temperature data. “Elon’s efforts to engage Trump in good faith were not met with good faith.”

Musk may be insulated from the withering attacks that Trump has leveled at several CEOs, in part because many other corporate leaders have expressed disappointment with Trump’s decision. Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger also said Thursday he resigned from a White House council.

Going after Musk also would conflict with Trump’s support for those who manufacture in America. Tesla makes cars, batteries, solar roofs and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. builds rockets in the U.S. The two companies’ 40,000 workers are almost all employed domestically.

Model 3

Musk’s exit comes at a critical time. This summer, Tesla plans to begin releasing the Model 3, a smaller electric sedan that will begin at roughly $35,000 before a federal tax credit. Anticipation of the more affordable model joining the lineup has sent Tesla’s stock up 59 percent this year.

SpaceX has contracts with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration valued at $4.2 billion. The Hawthorne, California-based company’s seventh launch of the year -- a NASA mission to resupply the space station -- is slated for Saturday. SpaceX also has pacts for U.S. military launches of satellites, a market estimated to be valued at about $70 billion through 2030.

“It’s gotten to the point where NASA needs Elon as much as Elon needs NASA,” said Marco Caceres, a senior space analyst with Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market researcher. “But I don’t see retribution from Trump on this. Trump must know that this position is not a popular one for most business people. He can’t punish everyone who disagrees with him.”

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