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Request for Energy employees working on climate change ‘not authorized’ by Trump team

By Teresa Welsh

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is distancing itself from a survey sent to the Department of Energy.
President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is distancing itself from a survey sent to the Department of Energy. AP

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team said Thursday that a survey sent to the Energy Department asking for the names of people who had work on climate change was “not authorized.”

“The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol,” Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said. “The person who sent it has been properly counseled.”

The Energy Department received the survey last Tuesday but announced Monday it would not comply with the order to turn over the names of employees who had attended U.N. climate meetings and meetings on the social cost of carbon, which helps determine costs and benefits of climate regulations. The survey also requested a list of the professional society memberships of department employees and the titles of their recent publications.

Those concerned about the survey, including two Democratic lawmakers on the Oversight and Energy and Commerce Committees, said the effort seemed to be threatening to civil employees who were carrying out their jobs, including work on climate change.

“While the new Administration is entitled to select political appointees who share the president-elect's views on climate change, any effort to retaliate against, undermine, demote, or marginalize civil servants on the basis of their scientific analysis would be an abuse of authority,” the lawmakers wrote to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman, who served under former Republican President George W. Bush, said if she were a civil employee in the Energy Department the survey would make her “very nervous.”

“Why would you need to know that? If they are a career civil servant that's carrying out the policies of the incumbent administration, why do you need to know that they've been good civil servants for this one issue?” Whitman told NPR. “It implies that since this is not going to be your policy, you're going to assume that that's what they're going to do no matter what. And they're going to try to undercut you. And therefore, you're going to try to get back at them — some kind of retribution.”

She said it “never would have occurred to her” to ask employees what conferences they had attended in the past.

Trump has nominated former Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry to head the federal agency, a department the former presidential candidate said he would eliminate during his bid for president in 2012. Perry denies that climate change, the global warming phenomenon agreed upon by the majority of scientists, is real. He claims “the science is not verified” and that climate change is “one contrived phony mess.”

Trump’s own views on climate change are murky. He has asserted that the idea that humans are contributing to the warming of the planet was a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese and that he would dismantle the Paris climate accord. But following his election Trump told New York Times reporters during an interview he has “an open mind on it.”