Refusing to provide President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team with a requested list of Department of Energy employees who worked on climate change issues wasn’t just the right thing to do for employees, but also for Rick Perry, Trump’s pick to lead the agency, outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Wednesday.
Addressing the press for the last time as secretary of energy, Moniz suggested that DOE’s response to a transition team questionnaire will save Perry from troubles with staff when he takes over. “You’re not going to get the work done if you don’t have [DOE career staff] helping you row the same direction,” Moniz said at the National Press Club. “I think calming that down, getting that issue off the table, was absolutely the right thing to do, first of all in consideration of those people, but also in consideration of the next secretary.”
A survey sent by Trump’s transition team to the department shortly after the Nov. 8 election requested that DOE provide “a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (under the UNFCCC) in the last five years.”
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the treaty under which the international Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2015. During his campaign, Trump vowed to “cancel” the climate change accord. Since being elected, however, he softened his language on the deal, saying he is “studying it” and has an “open mind.”
The department made it clear that it would not comply with the request. “I am not going to impute any motivation to it, but I will say, as a statement of fact, there were a lot of unsettled career people with those questions and so [we] just said no, we’re not going to do that,” Moniz said.
The survey threw the scientific community into a tizzy, eventually forcing the Trump transition team to disavow the whole affair, saying it was not authorized. “Creating lists of employees smacks of McCarthyism and should cease immediately. And Department of Energy employees should resist complying with any demands that would compromise the independence of the agency’s experts,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said of the questionnaire.
Moniz has met with Perry since his nomination and told reporters the former Texas governor is “very committed to moving the department forward. He’s also thinking about how he and the White House [will] put together the leadership team to be able to span what is a pretty big mission space.”
Included in that mission is supporting clean energy innovation, which, while it might not fit into Trump’s view on the matter of climate change, is beneficial to the U.S. and generally supported by Congress, according to Moniz. “The innovation agenda, I think, has strong bipartisan support. We have two years of that discussion with Congress, and I think it’s quite strong now. We are advocating a doubling of that R&D budget. We have received strong support in principle for doing that in Congress and of course also in the outside world,” Moniz said.
Doubling U.S. clean energy R&D would amount to an additional federal investment of nearly than $6.5 billion.
Beyond refusing the transition team’s request, DOE also released a new policy on scientific integrity last week. The policy stressed the importance of the independence of scientists. The policy states that scientists working for DOE and its national laboratories “should be able to certainly express their opinions, their fact-based opinions,” said Moniz, a nuclear physicist. “They must get the opportunity to review DOE statements about their work and DOE officials should not, and will not, ask scientists to tailor their work to any particular conclusion. Certainly as a scientist myself I understand the importance of independence and integrity in the scientific method.”