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Musk Cools On Trump Over Climate Change Accord

June 2, 2017
Clean energy titan Elon Musk surrendered his spot in Trump's inner circle over their disagreement on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Elon Musk finally pulled the plug on Donald Trump. 

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

The 45-year-old entrepreneur quit the president’s Strategic and Policy Forum as well as the White House’s manufacturing council. “Climate change is real,” he tweeted. “Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world.”

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. Billboards sprang up in California urging Musk to “Dump Trump.”

But until Thursday, the South African-born Musk, CEO of both Tesla and rocket builder SpaceX, insisted it was important to have a seat at the table to engage for the greater good. Just last week, Musk tweeted he had spoken directly to the president about Paris and that he was “ cautiously optimistic of a positive decision.”

Trump’s Paris announcement suggests Musk struck out in his efforts to influence the president. Tesla’s mission to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy” also appeared starkly at odds with Trump’s views on the environment.

‘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 other CEOs, in part because many other corporate leaders have expressed disappointment with Trump’s decision.

Musk has also adopted a made-in-America strategy for Tesla cars and the rockets manufactured by SpaceX. The two companies’ 40,000 workers are almost all based in the U.S.

Model 3

Tesla’s cars built in Fremont, California and its battery gigafactory lies in a Republican congressional district in Nevada. This summer, Tesla plans to begin releasing the Model 3, a smaller electric sedan that will begin at roughly $35,000 before federal subsidies. Anticipation of the Model 3 has sent Tesla’s stock up 59% this year.

SpaceX meanwhile 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 Thursday evening. SpaceX also has contracts for U.S. military launches of satellites 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.”