‘McCarthyism’ in the Air After Trump Team Demands Names of DOE Climate Specialists
The incoming Trump administration sent shockwaves through the U.S. Department of Energy and the wider climate and energy community late last week, with a list of 74 questions “asking agency officials to identify which employees and contractors have worked on forging an international climate pact as well as domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output,” the Washington Post reports.
“The questionnaire, which one Energy Department official described as unusually ‘intrusive’ and a matter for departmental lawyers, has raised concern that the Trump transition team is trying to figure out how to target the people, including civil servants, who have helped implement policies under Obama,” the Post notes.
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“Are you now, or have you ever been, a believer in climate change?” one climate hawk emailed in response.
“The transition team has asked the agency to list employees and contractors who attended United Nations climate meetings, along with those who helped develop the Obama administration’s social cost of carbon metrics, used to estimate and justify the climate benefits of new rules,” writes Bloomberg News, the agency that broke the original story. “The advisers are also seeking information on agency loan programs, research activities, and the basis for its statistics, according to a five-page internal document circulated by the Energy Department on Wednesday.”
The Trump transition team had no official response to the leak, but “a person close to the transition team confirmed the questions Thursday,” Bloomberg reports. “The person, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter, praised the calibre of the Energy Department staff and cast the transition team’s effort as designed to ensure transparency on the formation of existing, Obama-era policy.
There’s nothing new in disagreements between political appointees and career scientists working in government. “What is novel is the request for the names of so many individual scientists, and the fact that it comes during the transition period, before the Trump administration has even taken power,” the paper adds. “This may be a signal of even more intense politicization after the inauguration.”
It isn’t that Trump’s would be the first U.S. administration to install like-minded subject specialists at the expense of those hired by previous leadership, said Yale University environmental historian Paul Sabin. “What seems unusual is singling people out for a very specific, substantive issue, and treating their work on that substantive issue as, by default, contaminating or disqualifying,” he said.
Union of Concerned Scientists President Ken Kimmell issued a strong condemnation of the memo.
“We cannot imagine any legitimate purpose to this inquiry,” he stated. “It seems designed to intimidate those federal workers and make them think twice about working for the federal government. At a minimum, targeting employees because of their work is likely to subvert the federal government’s efforts to address the impacts of climate change.”
“Creating lists of employees smacks of McCarthyism and should cease immediately,” he added. “And Department of Energy employees should resist complying with any demands that would compromise the independence of the agency’s experts.”