December 9, 2016; Washington Post

On November 6, 2012, Donald Trump tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” On December 19, 2016, the Electoral College is expected to formally elect Trump as the 45th U.S. President. The election will be certified by a joint session of Congress in January 2017, and the presidential transition will end when Trump is inaugurated at noon EST on Friday, January 20, 2017.

Tom Pyle leads the Trump energy transition team. Pyle is president of the American Energy Alliance, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, the advocacy arm of the 501(c)(3) public charity Institute for Energy Research (IER) for which Pyle also serves as president. Pyle previously served as director of federal affairs for Koch Industries.

Pyle’s transition team dispatched this questionnaire to the U.S. Department of Energy last week. Among the 74 questions is a request (#19) for the names of the department’s employees and contractors who attended meetings and conferences on climate change over the past five years.

The questionnaire asks (#8) about the “development of offshore wind,” a concern recently in the news with regard to Trump’s business interests. Other issues are raised such as (#37) whether there are any legal barriers to proceeding with the Yukka Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada that was mothballed by Obama and fiercely opposed by Nevada’s congressional delegation. Most of the alarm, however, is over the transition team’s request for names.

While the Washington Post offers a comprehensive review of the entire questionnaire and varied and informative responses to it, this letter addressed to President-elect Trump from Senator Edward Markey (D-MA), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, articulates precisely what is on the mind of most of the media and most other observers of this transition team action:

This request suggests that your administration may intend to retaliate against career employees who faithfully executed their responsibilities. […] If any of this information is used to demote, sideline, terminate or otherwise discriminate against federal civil servants whose only “crime” was to execute the lawful policy directives of their supervisors, then your administration would violate U.S. law that protects employees against such wrongful acts of retaliation.

According to NPR:

Tom Divine is the legal director of the Government Accountability Project and says he’s represented thousands of whistleblowers over the years. He says the questionnaire has all the “symptoms” of trying to pin down employees’ personal views.

“This type of action is designed to create the infrastructure to create an enemies list or a menu of federal workers who will be targeted and also to lay the foundation to engage in surveillance against potential whistleblowers,” Divine says.

Jumping to unfair conclusions? Reading Pyle’s recent AEA fundraising pitch gives reason to be concerned that this questionnaire is far more concerned about making preparations for the dismantling than the upholding of the past eight years of work conducted by the DOE. Question #29 of the questionnaire takes on new meaning with even a cursory review of Pyle’s donor letter: “Which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan?”

And, of course, what is both curious and chilling about this request for names is that it comes even before Trump takes office. We have already witnessed how Trump publicly calls out dissenting voices by name during this time that other presidential transition teams have treated with utmost discretion. Once in power, as Senator Markey’s warns, how will the Trump administration assert its newfound powers?

President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), provided more than $90 billion in strategic clean energy investments and tax incentives “to promote job creation and the deployment of low-carbon technologies, and leveraging approximately $150 billion in private and other non-federal capital for clean energy investments.” This includes the DOE’s $4.5 billion in loan guarantees for electric vehicles, something the questionnaire also addresses.

The DOE conducts more research in the physical sciences than any other U.S. federal agency. Most of this work is conducted through its system of centralized national laboratories that had their beginning in World War II when these laboratories developed radar, the computer, and the atomic bomb. Those scientists who devoted their careers over the past eight years to planet-saving science may soon be out of their jobs, and we’ll all need to figure out what this new landscape will require of us.—James Schaffer