Well, not in those exact words, but the message was clear.
With five weeks to go before Donald Trump is scheduled to take the oath of office, the transition has certainly played out as a 21st-century version of “Alice in Wonderland.” This week the 45th president appointed Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy, one of the cabinet-level agencies the former Texas governor famously forgot that he wanted to abolish during his short-lived 2012 presidential campaign.
The appointment came a week after Trump’s transition team sent a list of 70-plus questions to the DOE, including a request for the names of employees and contractors who worked on climate change-related projects.
DOE officials responded by insisting that the department would “respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence” of all employees working within its offices and labs, the Washington Post reported. In short: While all public information would be readily made available to the transition team, the DOE put the kibosh on naming individuals.
The fear is not that employees will be fired from their jobs; the patchwork of union membership and other employment protections, for better or worse, will prevent any melodrama of mass firings. But DOE employees could be reassigned, or even see their work become ignored or marginalized by the political appointees that Trump and Perry would enlist to run the department over the next four years. Contractors with long-term relationships with the DOE and its employees could also be terminated or find that their contracts will not be renewed.
Meanwhile, the Post’s Joe Davidson described a scene at some DOE labs as akin to the time when dot-coms were folding during that sector’s market crash at the turn of the century. Scientists have reportedly been downloading their research and scientific data onto independent servers in the anticipation that such information will eventually be suppressed or disappear during a Trump administration.
Add the recent announcement that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson will be the next Secretary of State, and U.S. energy policy could undergo a massive shift despite the energy and climate change mitigation policies that are being adopted by much of the world.
Trump’s signal that the U.S. will boost its consumption of oil and coal comes at a time when market forces have caused natural gas and renewables to displace coal (and, in the long run, possibly oil) as the foundation of the country’s energy portfolio. Trump has made the dubious promise that coal jobs will come back to America. But the fact is that job opportunities in the clean-energy sector are increasing at a rapid rate – and, as Bloomberg reported in May, have surpassed employment in oil and gas drilling.
Fears of a total wipe-out of the policies made over the past eight years (and even under George W. Bush) are probably overstated. A total reversal of a previous administration’s policies is unheard of, as evident in the grumblings the Left often directed at the Obama administration on everything from Guantanamo Bay to government secrecy.
Meanwhile, the falling price of renewables such as solar and wind power have made them cost competitive with fossil fuels, and the private sector has responded in kind.
And finally, a change in the federal government will have little impact on states and municipalities that have embarked on their own clean-energy investment plans.
Nevertheless, Trump’s appointments indicate that anyone in the science community will need to fasten their seat belts and add a straightjacket with lots of bubble tape, as they’ll be in for one heck of a bumpy ride.
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