Donald Trump May Be Starting an Environmental Witch Hunt

December 11th 2016

Willie Burnley Jr.

Environmentalists have openly worried that President-elect Donald Trump may reverse any progress by the Obama administration and the federal government on climate change.

The Trump transition team just signaled that it may be targeting people in the Department of Energy.

That's the impression left by a 74-point questionnaire being circulated at the Department of Energy, which asks, among other things, for the names of all employees who have attended climate change policy conferences.

The broad request also seeks the identity of any employees or contractors who've attended a United Nation climate change conference "in the last five years," according to The New York Times.

The document also hints at how the incoming administration will view the department's policies, the Times reported:

  • It asks for information on the department's climate science research, clean energy programs and the employees who work for those programs
  • It seeks information on meeting times and materials related to meetings.
  • It "demands justification for the office’s measurements of the nation’s carbon dioxide pollution," the Times reported.

The questionnaire is of concern to critics who worry that Trump is on a "witch hunt."

The document is unusual in "singling people out for a very specific substantive issue and treating their work on that substantive issue as, by default, contaminating or disqualifying," Yale University environmental historian Paul Sabin told The Washington Post.

Michael McKenna, a former George W. Bush administration Energy Department official who initially led Trump’s Energy Department transition, told the Times he saw nothing wrong with the questionnaire: "If meetings happened and important stuff was decided, voters have a right to know. It's not a matter of national security. The transition is not asking about nuclear weapons. They are asking about meetings about modeling, for God’s sake."

Trump said recently that he is open-minded about environmental policy, but that he remains a climate change skeptic.

"Nobody really knows [if climate change is real,]" Trump responded to Fox's Chris Wallace when asked where he stood on the environment. Trump said he prioritized the economy over environmental effects. (In fact, there is overwhelming consensus among scientists that climate change is real, that it is happening now and that humans are the cause.)

"I don't want [the Paris Climate Accords] to put us at a competitive disadvantage with other countries," Trump said after letting it be known that he is still studying the issue.

Trump also implied that he would restart the process to construct the North Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines, if they were not underway by the time he got into office.

Both projects were eventually stopped after protests by environmentalists and others.

The questionnaire provides critics with more evidence that Trump will try to undo President Obama's environmental policies.