Energy Department slaps down Donald Trump's "witch hunt" of climate change staffers

Obama's Energy Department rejected Trump’s request to single out staffers who worked to address climate change

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published December 13, 2016 8:44PM (EST)

Al Gore; Donald Trump   (AP/Getty/Alex Sanz/Mandel Ngan/Martha Irvine/Salon)
Al Gore; Donald Trump (AP/Getty/Alex Sanz/Mandel Ngan/Martha Irvine/Salon)

The U.S. Energy Department said on Tuesday it will not comply with a request from President-elect Donald Trump's transition team to provide a list of staff and contractors who have worked on domestic and international efforts to reduce carbon emissions during the Obama administration.

On Friday, Bloomberg leaked a 75-question memo sent by the Trump transition team to the DOE, asking for information about the kinds of work it’s doing and the legal and procedural basis for certain programs.

“Can you provide a list of all Department of Energy employees or contractors who have attended Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings?” reads one of the questions. “Can you provide a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation or as a result of those meetings.”

While such a questionnaire is not uncommon for transition teams to send federal agencies, the specific questions set off alarm bells that Trump and his team were looking to push out the career civil servants who accept the scientific consensus that global warming the result of human activity.

"This feels like the first draft of an eventual political enemies list," a Department of Energy employee, who asked not to be identified because he feared reprisal from the Trump transition team, told Reuters.

Another Energy Department employee told The Washington Post, “With some of these questions, it feels more like an inquisition than a question, in terms of going after career employees who have been here through the Bush years to Clinton, and up to now.”

One former DOE staffer told Politico that Trump's request “sounds like a freaking witch hunt.”

Trump has repeated called climate change a hoax, and told "Fox News Sunday" this past weekend that “nobody really knows” about climate change.

Following reports on Monday that Trump was set to tap former Texas governor Rick Perry to head the DOE, an agency he once publicly vowed to abolish, Energy Department spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder made clear on Tuesday that the department will not comply with Trump's unnerving request.

“We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department,” Energy Department spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder said in an email to the Post. “We will be forthcoming with all publicly available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.”

According to the Post, DOE officials sent an email to employees Tuesday morning assuring them that Trump's request had been “resolutely rejected” and that no individual names will be provided to the Trump transition team:

The Department of Energy received significant feedback from our workforce throughout the department, including the National Labs, following the release of the transition team’s questions. Some of the questions asked left many in our workforce unsettled. Our career workforce, including our contractors and employees at our labs, comprise the backbone of DOE and the important work our department does to benefit the American people. We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department.

We will be forthcoming with all publicly-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.

The Post also reported Monday that “scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference,” including efforts to copy irreplaceable data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, as well as efforts to compile online portals for scientific information.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Climate Change Department Of Energy Donald Trump Trump Transition Trump Transition Team