Last week, Donald Trump’s transition team sent the Department of Energy a lengthy questionnaire, which posed the same basic inquiry in a variety of different wordings: “Are you now, or have you ever been, a climate empiricist?”
Or, at least, that was the McCarthyist flavor the department’s civil servants tasted when reading through the president-elect’s missive. And it isn’t hard to see why.
The questionnaire asked agency officials to list the names of employees and contractors who “had attended any” United Nations climate conferences “in the last five years,” worked on domestic efforts to limit carbon emissions, or “attended any Interagency Working Group meetings” to design the measurement known as the Social Cost of Carbon, a metric often used by the Obama White House to justify its regulations of carbon output.
Trump’s transition team also requested a list of “which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.”
For whatever reason, DOE officials don’t think Trump is requesting this information so as to assemble a climate-change-prevention super-team, but rather, to punish or marginalize those civil servants who lack his enthusiasm for accelerating the onset of ecological catastrophe.
Thus, on Tuesday, the department announced that it would not be naming names.
“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,” Eben Burnham-Snyder, a department spokesman, said in a statement obtained by the Washington Post. “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 publically-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.”
While civil-service protections may make it difficult for Trump to purge the DOE of climate-change experts, those experts still have plenty of reasons to keep their heads low. Several of the transition team’s queries indicated an intent to downsize the department, including a question about how many assistant energy secretaries the administration is required to employ by law, and a request for recommendations about how one might implement a 10 percent reduction in the department’s budget over a four-year period.
Contractors would be especially vulnerable to losing their meal tickets, while staffers would have more to fear from the new administration than losing their jobs.
“A greater concern would be that selected employees could be marginalized, i.e., ignored, by new leadership at the Department solely based on unfounded conjecture that those employees cannot be trusted by the new political team,” John Palguta, a civil-service expert, told the Post. “The consequences for contract employees could be greater if a future decision not to renew a contract is influenced by the same unsupported speculation.”
Still, the questionnaire was not entirely ominous. While signaling an ostensible witch hunt against climate researchers, the queries also suggested an interest in expanding the use of nuclear power. If properly executed, such a plan could have a meaningful impact in reducing American dependence on carbon-intensive energy sources.
And who can doubt that such a plan will be properly executed, now that Trump has named esteemed nuclear scientist Rick Perry as his choice for Energy secretary?