Government scientist says he was reassigned after speaking out about climate change

He went from working with Alaskan communities on climate adaptation to the fossil fuel revenue office.

Joel Clement announced his whistleblower filing on the Washington Post website. CREDIT: Washington Post
Joel Clement announced his whistleblower filing on the Washington Post website. CREDIT: Washington Post

A policy director and scientist at the Department of the Interior filed a whistleblower complaint with U.S. Office of Special Counsel after being relocated from his position helping Alaskan communities adapt to climate change. He was then assigned to “an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies,” he wrote Wednesday in a Washington Post op-ed.

Joel Clement was one of dozens of DOI employees who received letters in June announcing they would be transferred — in some cases, across country — to “improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,” he said. “I am not an accountant — but you don’t have to be one to see that the administration’s excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn’t add up.”

Clement alleges that his transfer was in retaliation for “speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities.” Clement was a lead author on a 2013 report for the president titled, Managing for the Future in a Rapidly Changing Arctic. The report’s former location on the DOI website no longer works, but it is available from NOAA.

DOI did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment on Clement’s filing or the missing report.

“Let’s be honest,” Clement writes. “The Trump administration didn’t think my years of science and policy experience were better suited to accounts receivable. It sidelined me in the hope that I would be quiet or quit.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June that his agency’s proposed staff cuts — representing 4,000 people — would be achieved through “a combination of attrition, reassignments, and separation incentives” (emphasis added).

Clement argues that DOI is intentionally transferring people in the hopes they will quit. “Some of my colleagues are being relocated across the country, at taxpayer expense, to serve in equally ill-fitting jobs,” he writes.

Clement’s allegations that his specific case is tied to the department’s overall attempt to silence climate scientists is backed up by other actions Zinke and his team have taken this year.

In May, it came out that the department had removed a line about climate change from a report on coastal flooding. Secretary Zinke has said he thinks clean energy is a “hoax”. After the president reversed a moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands, Zinke said, “We can’t power the country on pixie dust and hope.” His agency is now spearheading an attempt to open more federal waters — including off the southeastern coast and in the Arctic — for oil drilling.

The Environmental Protection Agency has also taken a hard line against climate science, deleting many mentions of climate change from its website.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus told Fox News in November that climate change denial would be the “default position” of the new administration.