Interior Whistleblower Quits, Lambastes Ryan Zinke's 'Resume Of Failure'

Chris D'Angelo

Joel Clement — a federal scientist who blew the whistle on the Trump administration, claiming he was reassigned for warning about the dangers of climate change to Alaska natives — has resigned from his post at the Interior Department.

In a resignation letter Wednesday, which Clement shared with HuffPost, he blasts Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Donald Trump for their “poor leadership.” 

“Retaliating against civil servants for raising health and safety concerns is unlawful, but there are many items to add to your resume of failure,” Clement wrote to Zinke. Those failures, he said, include “muzzling scientists and policy experts,” conducting an “arbitrary and sloppy review of our treasured National Monuments,” targeting an Obama-era conservation plan for the greater sage grouse, and compromising tribal sovereignty.

“Secretary Zinke, your agenda profoundly undermines the [Interior Department’s] mission and betrays the American people,” Clement wrote. 

Clement, a seven-year Interior employee, was among dozens of senior Interior staff reassigned in June as part of a sweeping reorganization. Those transfers are under investigation by the department’s inspector general to determine whether they were done legally.

Questioned about the reassignments at a June 21 budget hearing, Zinke said the moves were “far from unprecedented,” and involved “shifting people to either the area where their skills are better suited or getting people out of headquarters” and into “the field.” 

In a July 19 op-ed in the Washington Post, Clement said the administration “sidelined” him in hopes that he would quit. He went from being director of the department’s Office of Policy Analysis — where, among other responsibilities, he detailed the effects of global warming on Alaska’s native communities — to a senior adviser at an office that, as he described it, “collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.” 

Clement co-authored a lengthy 2013 report for former President Barack Obama detailing the “rapid, sustained” changes happening in the Arctic.

Interior spokesman Russell Newell, responding to Clement’s resignation, said via email that the department “does not comment on ongoing matters such as whistleblower complaints.”

Regarding the shuffling of senior agency staff, Newell said Zinke “has been absolutely out front” about Trump’s efforts to reorganize the federal government. The personnel moves “are being conducted to better serve the taxpayer and the Department’s operations,” he said.

In his resignation letter, Clement cited what he views as the administration’s waste of taxpayer dollars — namely, placing him and others in roles that don’t suit their qualifications — and failures on climate change as reasons for his departure. 

“Secretary Zinke, you and your fellow high-flying Cabinet members have demonstrated over and over that you are willing to waste taxpayer dollars, but I am not,” Clement wrote, a dig at Zinke and other Trump team officials’ use of private planes for government business. (It’s a controversy Zinke has dismissed as “a little BS,” but which is also being probed by Interior’s inspector general.)

Clement added that Zinke, Trump and Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt are “shackled to special interests such as oil, gas, and mining,” are “unwilling to lead on climate change,” and “cannot be trusted with our nation’s natural resources.” 

“You have not silenced me; I will continue to be an outspoken advocate
for action, and my voice will be part of the American chorus calling for your resignation so that someone loyal to the interests of all Americans, not just special interests, can take your job,” Clement wrote, referring to Zinke, a former House member from Montana. “My thoughts and wishes are with the career women and men who remain at DOI. I encourage them to persist when possible, resist when necessary, and speak truth to power so the institution may recover and thrive once this assault on its mission is over.”

Clement’s departure comes as Zinke and Trump are looking to slash the agency’s funding by $1.6 billion — to $11.7 billion — and reduce the number of full-time staff by roughly 4,000. Zinke drew fire last week when he characterized a large segment of the department’s staff as disloyal. 

I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,” Zinke said during a speech to an oil industry group. 

Read Clement’s full resignation letter below: 

Clement Resignation Letter 10-4-17 by CM D'Angelo on Scribd

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.