Joel Clement, a whistleblower who until recently served as director of the Interior Department’s Office of Policy Analysis. (Photo provided by Wilkenfeld Law)
Bringing further attention to one of the most high-profile whistleblower cases to arise during the Trump administration so far, Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are supporting a Department of Interior executive who says management retaliated against him because he disclosed how climate change is creating acute risks to Alaskan coastal communities.
The whistleblower case is set against the backdrop of an administration that pulled out of the Paris climate accord, took steps to pull back from other initiatives meant to mitigate global climate change fueled by carbon emissions, and sought to unleash the fossil fuel industry. The Interior Department is at the forefront of many of these policy changes.
The whistleblower, Joel Clement, until recently served as director of the Interior Department’s Office of Policy Analysis, where he worked with Alaska Native communities whose villages are endangered by flooding and rising shorelines experts say are caused by climate change. He also managed much of the Obama administration’s Arctic initiatives, implementing Executive Orders, serving on international councils, and helping create the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, an interagency body tasked with coordinating policy on the Arctic. Clement says he raised the tangible risks that climate change creates for Alaskan communities with White House officials in the Trump administration and senior Interior Department personnel, and it was “clear” to him that they were “uncomfortable” with his message. Clement also spoke before the United Nations in June about the danger climate change poses to Alaskan villages.
Six days after that UN presentation, Interior Department management moved Clement out of his position into a new one with the Department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) under a “directed reassignment” effort launched by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. ONRR handles royalty payments from energy companies that draw fossil fuels from government lands. “I am not an accountant — but you don’t have to be one to see that the administration’s excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn’t add up,” said Clement in a Washington Post op-ed published July 19. He filed a complaint the same day with the Office of Special Counsel, a federal office that investigates whistleblower retaliation.
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