Trump Investigation of Energy Dept. Portends “Hit List” of Top Scientists and Workers Involved in Clean Energy and Iran Nuclear Accord

Monday, December 12, 2016
(graphic: Neil Webb, Getty Images)

By Matthew Daly and Richard Lardner, Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump's transition team is asking Energy Department employees for information about the agency's operations and personnel, including a list of employees and contractors who attended international meetings on climate change over the past five years.


The detailed questionnaire seeks a list of all political appointees and senior executives and asks employees to offer their opinions on who "owns" the department's clean energy mission and other policy goals. The transition team also wants to know if there are any legal barriers to moving ahead with a nuclear waste dump in Nevada, a project that is staunchly opposed by the state's congressional delegation.


An Energy Department official called the 74 questions a hit list and said Trump's team appears to be going after top scientists and employees who work on subjects ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the internal operations of the national energy labs. The official is not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity to discuss the document.


The official said questions about professional society memberships and websites that staff at the Energy Department's national laboratories maintain or contribute to could raise questions about Trump's commitment to scientific independence — a fundamental tenet at the agency.


Another question about the identities of the top 20 salaried employees of each lab raised alarms about whether these workers would be targeted for a particular reason, according to the official.


The Energy Department has a $32 billion annual budget, yet the bulk of its workforce — nearly 100,000 employees — are supplied by private contractors. The agency has 14,000 government employees.


Bloomberg News first reported the questionnaire. The Associated Press independently obtained a copy of the document.


Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter to Trump on Friday telling the president-elect that the new Trump administration would violate the law if any of the information being collected is used to punish department employees who carried out legal policy directives.


"Civil servants should never be punished for having executed policies with which a new administration disagrees," wrote Markey, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "That would be tantamount to an illegal modern-day political witch hunt, and would have a profoundly chilling impact on our dedicated federal workforce."


The document offers a window into how far the incoming Trump administration may go to reverse President Barack Obama's worldview on pressing energy and climate policies. During his first term, Obama allotted more than $90 billion in stimulus money to boost the clean energy industry to help shift the country away from foreign oil and to create jobs.


The solar company Solyndra was the first company to get a federal loan guarantee under an existing program that Obama expanded under the stimulus. But the company failed soon after receiving the guarantee, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $500 million. Republicans and other critics have cited Solyndra as an example of wasteful spending under a program they say failed to boost the economy but drove up federal deficits.


The Trump transition questionnaire asks for a "full accounting of DOE liabilities associated with any loan or loan guarantee programs." The team also wants a status report on the department's recent issue of $4.5 billion in loan guarantees for electric vehicles.


The creation of a high-level nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain northwest of Las Vegas is a hot-button issue. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and the state's other lawmakers have opposed the dump. But Reid, a Nevada Democrat and perhaps the project's most influential opponent, retires from Congress next month.


The transition team document asks whether there are any "statutory restrictions" to restarting the Yucca Mountain project and whether the department has a plan for resuming the proceedings to secure the needed licenses. The Obama administration cut off federal funding in 2010, effectively mothballing the project.


The questionnaire asks about the Energy Department's role in the Iran nuclear accord, an international deal negotiated by the U.S. and other world powers that stalls the threat of Tehran developing atomic weapons in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Trump railed against the agreement during the campaign, calling it "stupid," a "lopsided disgrace" and the "worst deal ever negotiated."


To Learn More:

ACLU Gears Up to Fight in Court Anticipated “Unconstitutional Acts” by a President Trump (by Bianca Bruno, Courthouse News Service)


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