Arctic sea ice is seen from a NASA research aircraft on March 30, 2017, above Greenland. A top Interior Department scientist who tracks Arctic conditions says he was demoted by the Trump administration for speaking out on climate change.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
A former head policy adviser at the Interior Department is accusing the Trump Administration of reassigning him to a lesser position for speaking out about the dangers of climate change.
Joel Clement, a scientist who was director of the Interior Department's Office of Policy Analysis for much of the Obama Administration, was recently reassigned to work to an "accounting office," the agency's Office of Natural Resources and Revenue.
In an op-ed published Wednesday in The Washington Post, he wrote that he believes he was retaliated against for "speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities." He says that he's turning whistleblower on an administration that "chooses silence over science."
In his former role, Clement advised the Obama Administration on Arctic issues. He authorized a report to Obama in 2013 that warned the Arctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth and that the implications of the change would include "rapid coastal erosion threatening villages and facilities, loss of wildlife habitat, ecosystem instability... and unpredictable impacts on subsistence activities and critical social needs."
Clement wrote in the op-ed that in the months preceding his reassignment, he had raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community.
"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," he wrote.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told lawmakers last month that he aims to reduce the workforce of his agency by 4,000 employees to achieve a "balanced budget." And to achieve those cuts, he said the agency would rely on buyouts, attrition and reassignments.
At an earlier event, Zinke told reporters the agency was about to enter "probably the greatest reorganization in the history of the Department of the Interior."
Around the same time, there were reports that a massive reshuffling of senior Interior Department officials was underway. Clement was confirmed to be one of them.
His op-ed appears to be his first public comment since the reassignment. In it, Clement says he's hoping for a thorough investigation into the Interior Department's actions. "The threat to these Alaska Native communities is not theoretical. This is not a policy debate," he writes. "Retaliation against me for those disclosures is unlawful."
The Interior Department has not responded to a request for comment.
The impacts of climate change are already being felt in Alaska's coastal communities. Residents of the island community of Shishmaref, Alaska, voted to relocate last year because of rising sea levels.
The tiny village of Newtok asked the Obama Administration for disaster relief resources to help relocate their entire community, but their request was denied.
The Trump Administration has downplayed the effects and threat of climate change.
Many mentions of it have been removed from government websites. Funding for climate research has been stripped from proposed budgets. In early June, President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate accords.
During his confirmation hearings, Zinke told lawmakers that he believes the climate is changing and that man is an influence, but that he thinks there's debate on "what that influence is [and] what can we do about it."