Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke got off the hook for his alleged threats to shut down Alaska over health care because the recipients of those threats, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, refused to talk.
He might not be so lucky with the latest allegation.
An Interior Department executive resigned Wednesday, claiming Zinke and the Trump administration retaliated against him for publicly linking climate change to the impacts seen in Alaska Native communities, according to a report by The Washington Post.
Joel Clement was the top climate policy official at the Department of the Interior, overseeing policies aimed at helping Alaska Native communities like Kivalina deal with the rapidly changing environmental conditions that threaten their way of life.
Clement says he was resassigned to oversee accountants, a position for which he has no experience, after speaking publicly about the impacts of climate change. In an interview with The Washington Post, Clement says by coming forward to talk about what happened he hopes others will consider speaking out and that the needs of the Alaska Native communities will be addressed.
“I certainly hope that regardless of what happens with my complaint that the issue of the risks that are faced—that Alaska Natives face are addressed,” he said. “And frankly I hope that other civil servants step up to say something, it’s why I’m saying something now. It’s a dangerous trend. It’s an abuse of power to purge scientists and policy experts, and I hope by speaking up now I can set an example and encourage others to do the same.”
Climate change and its impacts were a highlight of President Barack Obama’s 2015 trip to Alaska, which included stops in Anchorage, Dillingham and Kotzebue. He also flew over Kivalina during the trip to see first-hand its eroding coastline and later requested $400 million to move the village.
The issue of Clement’s reassignment has come under the purview of the Interior’s inspector general to determine whether the reassignments were legal. He was reassigned along with more than a dozen other executives in June. The Washington Post explains that by law executives like Clement are supposed to be given warning of reassignments.
Zinke’s recently come under fire for saying some Interior Department employees are “not loyal to the flag.”
“You have disrespected the career staff of the Department by questioning their loyalty and you have played fast and loose with government regulations to score points with your political base at the expense of American health and safety,” he wrote. “Secretary Zinke, your agenda profoundly undermines the DOI mission and betrays the American people.”