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Trump Team Asks Energy Dept. Employees About Involvement In Climate Change Work


The Trump transition team is asking who at the Department of Energy has been involved in talks on climate change. It's part of a long questionnaire that was sent to employees at the agency, and it's raising concerns that specific workers may be targeted as the next administration seeks to rollback climate policy. NPR's Jennifer Ludden joins us. Jennifer, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: What's in this questionnaire.

LUDDEN: Well, there's 74 questions in all. They're really wide ranging, but a number of them focus on climate. So one question wants to know who was at the United Nations climate talks over the past five years - both employees and contractors. One question says which programs at the Department of Energy are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama's climate action plan. And then there's a question - they want to know who developed this thing called the social cost of carbon, which is a way to measure damage from carbon dioxide emissions as a way to justify the cost of restricting them.

SIMON: And of course Mr. Trump has said that he thinks climate change is a hoax.

LUDDEN: Right. He said he wants to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate deal. He's talked about, you know, job-killing regulations he wants to end. And then we, you know, we got more insight this week. He named his head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. He has expressed skepticism about climate change, and he helped spearhead this lawsuit by 28 states to try and overturn President Obama's Clean Power Plan. Now, I should say that at this point we've not heard of any list of questions like this going around at the EPA.

SIMON: Employees at the Department of Energy are civil servants who obviously are not supposed to be - they're supposed to be beyond the reach of politics. How are employees reacting to the questionnaire?

LUDDEN: Right. I've spoken with some who, you know, they're worried. They're unnerved. They're concerned. They say this kind of letter is not really normal. Senator Ed Markey has also weighed in. He sent a letter to Trump warning that if people are penalized for simply doing their jobs that it's going to amount to an "illegal political witch hunt" - that's a quote. The Union of Concerned Scientists with shills with climate change also issued a statement saying this seems designed to intimidate workers. And they said it, quote, "smacks of McCarthyism." So far, the Trump transition team has not responded to requests for comment.

SIMON: Jennifer, what else is on that list of questions and what kind of inferences do you think might be fairly made about what the new administration looks forward to?

LUDDEN: Well, it looks like they want to shift more toward nuclear energy. There's a number of questions on there. They ask about keeping aging nuclear plants online and about restarting nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain. There's also a couple of questions that seem to suggest they want to market what comes out of the Energy Department's research labs. And a number of them just look like they're trying to find ways to cut basically, cut back, cut positions. One question says, you know, which assistant secretary positions are rooted in statute and which are discretionary?

SIMON: Do employees have to answer the questionnaire?

LUDDEN: You know, that's not completely clear to me, and there's at least one outside group who's urging people not to answer these questions. But I spoke with one Department of Energy employee who said that, you know, this person's department feels compelled to answer these questions because it seems like the department's budget is going to depend on the answers.

SIMON: NPR's Jennifer Ludden, thanks so much.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.
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