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Federal Scientist Pens Op-Ed: Trump Administration ‘Chooses Silence Over Science’

WASHINGTON — A scientist with the Interior Department says he was reassigned to an unrelated accounting position because of his work on climate change — part of the Trump administration’s efforts to silence such efforts. 

In an op-ed Wednesday in the Washington Post, Joel Clement wrote that he went from director of the department’s Office of Policy Analysis — where, among other responsibilities, he detailed the effects of global warming on Alaska’s native communities — to a senior adviser at an office that, as he describes it, “collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.” 

“I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen,” the seven-year Interior employee wrote. “Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.”

Last month, Clement and dozens of other senior staff at Interior were reassigned as part of a sweeping reorganization. At the time, an Interior spokesperson told the Washington Post the moves would “better serve the taxpayer and the department’s operations.”

Questioned about the reassignments at a June 21 budget hearing, department secretary Ryan Zinke said they were “far from unprecedented” and involved “shifting people to either the area where their skills are better suited or getting people out of headquarters” and into “the field.” 

Clement, however, says the administration “sidelined” him in hopes he would quit.

“I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities,” he wrote in his op-ed. “During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.” 

In 2013, Clement co-authored a lengthy report for former President Barack Obama detailing the “rapid, sustained” changes happening in the Arctic.

“The effects of continued climate change are seen throughout the U.S. Arctic,” the report said. “Scientific observations and traditional knowledge suggest that this region is moving toward conditions never before witnessed.”

Since taking office, President Donald Trump — who has dismissed climate change as “bullshit” and a Chinese hoax — has worked to derail America’s actions to combat global warming. He has rolled back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a policy limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and announced the U.S, would pull out of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.

He has stacked his Cabinet with industry lobbyists and climate change skeptics, vowed to revive America’s dying coal industry, increase oil and gas production, and open up now-protected areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to drilling. He also has proposed sweeping cuts to scientific agencies. 

Trump’s 2018 budget request would slash funding at the Interior Department by $1.6 billion — to $11.7 billion — and support just shy of 60,000 full-time staff, a reduction of roughly 4,000. 

Clement has filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel about his job switch, he said in his article. By reassigning him and leaving his former position vacant, the administration will “exacerbate the already significant threat to the health and the safety of certain Alaska Native communities,” he wrote.

“Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods,” he wrote. 

“Putting citizens in harm’s way isn’t the president’s right. Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great.”

The Interior Department did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. 

Clement’s op-ed comes a few months after an EPA scientist in Cincinnati wrote to the New York Times about how he felt working under Washington-based Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Saying Pruitt’s “role it is to dismantle the agency that he leads,  Michael Kravitz wrote, “I walk among my colleagues like a zombie in a bad dream; they also seem dazed.”

He added: “I hope the nightmare ends soon.”

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