In another sign that the transition isn’t proceeding as smoothly as President Obama professes, the Energy Department refused Tuesday to provide President-elect Donald Trump’s team with a list of federal employees who have worked on climate-change programs.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest expressed concern that the move by Mr. Trump “could have been an attempt to target civil servants, career federal government employees.”
“If we had to replace the entire Department of Energy every time a new president was elected, that is certainly going to undermine the ability of those at the most senior levels to implement a coherent and effective energy policy,” he said.
The president-elect’s transition officials have not explained the inquiry and did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The Trump transition team’s clash with the Energy Department comes as the president-elect is expected to name former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lead the agency, which is responsible for a wide portfolio dealing with the oil-and-gas sector, renewable energy such as wind and solar power, and nuclear power facilities.
If confirmed, Mr. Perry — who during his 2012 presidential bid wanted to abolish the Energy Department but then forgot his own position, prompting his infamous “oops” moment during a GOP primary debate — is likely to run a department much more friendly to fossil fuels.
Combined with Mr. Trump’s choice of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers to head the Interior Department and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, the incoming Trump administration has assembled a team that will prioritize energy development over emissions reductions and climate change.
The president-elect has vowed to pull the U.S. out of a global climate-change agreement signed by Mr. Obama that is aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
Mr. Earnest seemingly poked fun at the choice of Mr. Perry for Energy secretary, saying the administration’s refusal to turn over a list of agency employees’ names involves defense of the principle that “career civil servants are evaluated based on merit and not on politics.”
“And I’m sure that the president-elect used the same kind of criteria when choosing his new Department of Energy secretary as well. Don’t you think?” he asked to laughter from reporters.
The Trump team’s questionnaire sent to the Energy Department has so alarmed Democrats that Sen. Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, sent a letter Tuesday to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz asking him to warn her if Mr. Trump’s representatives seek any more information from the Cabinet agency. She called the questionnaire “troubling,” and blamed Thomas Pyle, head of the transition’s energy team who has led the Insitute for Energy Research, which she said is funded by fossil-fuel interests.
“These unprecedented questions suggest the incoming administration may be preparing to take arbitrary action against civil servants and government contractors simply because they worked, at the request of the Obama administration, on issues pertaining to climate change, the nuclear weapons complex and innovation policies, particularly related to clean energy technologies,” Ms. Cantwell wrote. “The potential ramifications are chilling.”
The dispute was another sign that transition tensions are rising, despite Mr. Obama’s assurances that he wants to make the transfer of power as smooth as possible. The rejection of the Trump team’s request at the Energy Department came a day after the White House renewed accusations of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia, and criticized Republican lawmakers for not raising concerns prior to the election about his alleged coziness with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Congress now plans to investigate claims that Russian hackers interfered in the U.S. election with the aim of helping Mr. Trump win, a charge that the president-elect rejects vehemently.
Energy Department spokesman Eben Burnhan-Snyder said the questionnaire from the Trump transition team last week “left many in our workforce unsettled.”
“We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department,” Mr. Burnham-Snyder said in a statement. “We will be forthcoming with all publicly-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.”
The survey asked department officials for a list of employees who have worked on Mr. Obama’s climate-change priorities, including the Paris climate agreement and the social cost of carbon emissions.
The head of the union for workers at the agency’s headquarters in Washington also expressed concern with the questionnaire.
“My members are upset and have questions about what this means. These are all civil servants who do their jobs,” said Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union. “They have no wish to be caught up in political winds — they are nonpartisan employees — scientists, engineers, statisticians, economists and financial experts — who were hired for their knowledge and they bring their talent and experience to the job every day.”
Looking ahead to new leadership at the Energy Department, top Republicans praised the pending Perry selection Tuesday.
“Rick Perry is an excellent choice to lead the Department of Energy,” Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “Perry understands the abundance of our domestic energy resources and what it takes to power our complex and growing economy. I am confident that under his leadership, the DOE will be right sized and focused intently on its twin goals of national security and energy independence.
Democrats blasted the move and cast Mr. Perry as unfit to lead the department, and bemoaned the fact that the agency is likely to reverse course away from a focus on clean energy and global warming.
“President Obama’s Energy Department has been instrumental in helping to more than double the amount of clean energy like wind and solar energy that we produce, and set historic energy efficiency standards that will help protect our planet,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement. “To have someone as unqualified as Rick Perry [serve as Energy secretary] is simply incomprehensible.”
While Mr. Perry clearly is an ally of the oil-and-gas industry, his record as Texas governor shows that he’s also more than willing to promote renewable power.
During his tenure, Texas became the largest wind power state in the country, with at least 18,000 megawatts of wind power installed, according to figures from the American Wind Energy Association.
Texas also saw a major uptick in solar power during Mr. Perry’s time as governor.
Adding to the transition tensions, Mr. Trump is expected to name former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be his new Energy secretary. Many in the Obama administration and its allies view Mr. Perry as a foe of Mr. Obama’s clean-energy and climate-change initiatives.