Professionalism/Joel Clement and the Department of the Interior

Joel ClementEdit

Seal of the U.S. Department of the Interior

Joel Clement[1] was the former top climate official of the United States Department of the Interior[2]. On July 19, 2017 after reassignment to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, he filed a complaint and a disclosure of information — with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. His assertions were that his reassignment violated federal whistle-blower protections and was a retaliation for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities[3].


Early CareerEdit

Following a typical path of government employment, Clement graduated Falmouth High School in 1984.[1] He pursued a Bachelor's Degree at the University of Virginia from 1984-1988 and a Master of Environmental Studies degree from The Evergreen State College. His environmental career aspirations were molded by a myriad of high ranking officer positions in environmental protection and awareness organizations. Starting in 1995-2002, Clement served as a field biologist with Forest Dynamics where he "developed field sampling protocols and utilized innovative statistical analyses to better understand and describe the forest canopy biota on three continents." [1]After seven years, he moved on to be a Program Officer at the Wilburforce Foundation from 2002-2010. There, he developed a successful philanthropic program focused on the science & policy interface and climate change adaptation.[1]

U.S. Department of the InteriorEdit

Then from 2011-2017, Clement served as director of the Office of Policy Analysis[4] within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), working to help Native Alaskan communities in danger of losing their lands and livelihoods due to climate change. [3] It was here under Secretary Ryan Zinke, Clement and dozens of his colleagues were reassigned to different DOI positions for which they were ill-suited.[5] In July 2017, Clement was reassigned as a senior advisor to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, where he would process royalty checks for fossil fuel companies. [3]Clement was no longer able to work on climate policy and blew the whistle on his politically motivated reassignment in The Washington Post, and later resigned in July 2017.[3]

Modern DayEdit

Today, Clement is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.[6] Here, Clement works to expose political interference in science, fight attacks on federal science, and promote public understanding of the importance of independent science in policymaking.[7] As well, he currently serves as a Senior Fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, teaching and training in international security and diplomacy, environmental and resource issues, and science and technology policy.[8]

Clement's ResponseEdit

After Clement was reassigned, Zinke testified that the reassignments were don in an effort to cut down on employees. He hoped that assignments to undesirable locations or positions would push people to quit. However, Clement believes that he was targeted specifically for his views on climate change and for speaking in public to raise awareness of it. Clement filed two formal complaints against the Trump administration.

The first compliant dealt with the legality of leaving his position unfilled. According to his research the Alaskan natives are one super storm away from being completely displaced and having their way of life destroyed. It is more important than ever to have someone in his role helping the adapt and even prepare for the worst. Clement argues that it is illegal of the Trump administration to not find someone qualified to fill his position:"The threat to these Alaska Native communities is not theoretical. This is not a policy debate. Retaliation against me for those disclosures is unlawful."[3]

His second complaint was that the Trump administration targeted him for his outspoken beliefs about climate change. Outside of his frequent public talks on climate change, Clement also believed that his frequent letters and visits to the White House to discuss climate change were also to blame.

Clement also argues that it is a colossal waste of valuable taxpayer money to make a civil servant work in a field he knows nothing about, and can not execute correctly.[3]

Ethical DilemmaEdit

It is clear that the Trump Administration is an opponent of environmentally-friendly policies, and likely that this philosophy trickled down to affect individual employees in the Department of the Interior.

Trump Administration on the EnvironmentEdit

Presidential CampaignEdit

Beginning on the campaign trail, Donald Trump was an avid proponent of the fossil fuel industry. He promised his supporters that he would slash Obama-era policies and regulations, especially noting the Clean Power Plan.[9] Trump also repeatedly attacked the Paris Climate Agreement, stating that it was "unbelievable" among other insults, and expressed his desire to get the bureaucracy out of the way of innovation and continue working with fossil fuels because they "are working much better" than renewables.[9] In Bismark, ND, at an oil industry conference in May 2016, he sided with the dying forms of energy: "We're going to bring back the coal industry, save the coal industry. I love those people."[9]

Trump's Early PresidencyEdit

On March 28, 2017, President Trump signed the Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.[10] This executive order was publicly construed as an "all of the above" energy policy; a senior administration official stated: "We're looking at deposits of coal, looking at nuclear, looking at renewables, all of it."[11] However, it's clear that this executive order was meant to open the floodgates for the fossil fuel industry and pull back regulations that Obama had put into place.[10][11] One such item on the agenda was to review and potentially rescind the Clean Power Plan, "if appropriate, as soon as practicable."[10] There has been further discussion about rescinding the Clean Power Plan, including several public comment sessions around the country. In late February 2018 in San Francisco, a family physician and former public health officer, said: "If this EPA cared one iota about the nation’s public health and wellbeing, it would engage the appeals court in defending the Clean Power Plan.”[12] It is well known that coal plants lead to heart disease, lung cancer, and other respiratory issues, and oil refining releases carcinogenic chemicals and byproducts.[13]

After his first quarter in office, President Trump donated his salary ($78,333.32) to the National Park Service to try to suppress resentment. This gift, though generous, doesn't quite reach the $100-210 million in deferred maintenance backlogs.[14]

Ryan ZinkeEdit

Secretary Ryan Zinke

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has been in office since March 1, 2017. On his first full day in office, Zinke removed Obama's prohibition of lead ammunition on federal lands and waters that was put into place to protect wildlife from lead poisoning. This move was seen as a huge success for the gun lobby.[14] On April 26, 2017, President Trump ordered Zinke to review the 27 largest national monuments designated by past presidents under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to see if any qualified for reductions.[14] After site visits and review, Zinke recommended that Bears Ears National Monument be reduced in size by 85%, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument be reduced by almost 46%.[15] The Department of the Interior claims this is due to abuse of power in designation, but some correspondence suggests the main reason was to help oil and mining companies. Zinke was quoted saying: "We also have a pretty good idea of, certainly, the oil and gas potential -- not much! So Bears Ears isn't really about oil and gas."[16] Departmental emails show, though, that there were many conversations going on about desirable minerals in the region.[16] There will also be a rush for mining claims in the region, even though mining companies deny this. Michael Richardson, a Utah Bureau of Land Management spokesman, said: "We’re working on getting information and new monument maps ready for people interested in claims," because they are expecting large amounts.[17] Under the General Mining Act of 1872, a claim only requires placing four stakes in the ground, attaching a written statement, and filing an official claim with the Bureau of Land Management within 30 days; the filing fee is only $212, and annual maintenance only costs $150.[17] For example, uranium companies are expected to file claims because there are large amounts of uranium near Bears Ears; in fact, Energy Fuels Resources (USA), a uranium mining company, specifically lobbied the Trump Administration to carve out sections of Bears Ears.[17]


A professional is:

  1. A licensed or credentialed member of a recognized profession: for example a physician, a lawyer, a professor, a clergyman, or a certified P.E. (Professional Engineer).
  2. The opposite of an amateur: an athlete, actor, etc., who is paid for his or her work.
  3. A dutiful and conscientious employee; for example, an employee who dresses appropriately and who is punctual, courteous and productive.
  4. A master of flow: one who works at one’s excellence such that work is play and challenges are matched with skill

In the situation of pitting one's professional knowledge against special interests and agendas of his superiors, on the surface Clement's actions seem self serving. His complaints about the Trump Administration's retaliatory response to his stance on climate change seem to be defensive, and the claim that Alaskans are defenseless without environmental aid seems to be a plead to his platform as the former top climate official. Modern day whistle blowing in government organizations has been described as courageous, especially since the NSA leaks of Edward Snowden in 2013. One could argue Clement's motivations were to secure his own agendas against the Trump Administration or even attain public approval.

However, Clement's disclosure of information and formal complaint represents a textbook case of definition 4 professionalism. He possesses a clear passion and expertise on climate change and an understanding of political agendas being forced out of his former position. Seeing the dangers of ignoring the needs of Alaskan Communities, he chose to blow the whistle on the administration not for fame, but due to an excellence for environmental awareness, protection, and care for the Alaskan people. This becomes clearer when reflecting on his rise to top climate official in the Department of the Interior and noting his career prospects after blowing the whistle.

For 22 years, Clement worked to build his career and reputation as a climate policy expert. [1]He understood the consequences of blowing the whistle would bring on his career choices in the future, but in his words he "wanted to step away completely." He was worried more about "losing his voice on this issue," than some job the government put him in: that he could do more outside of government than in.[18] His excellence and passion for protecting the environment far exceeds any need to keep some job or title. And today he continues to spread awareness through the Union of Concerned Scientists and Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.[6]


Clement's story marks an interesting investigation in professional ethics because it is a look into the professional's dilemma in a political environment. In the political climate where there are multiple competing agendas and special interests, it is often difficult to discern one's motivations as politically charged or out of pure morality. Clement's occupation and eventual resignation is a rare case of a political professional expressing genuine integrity and care, disregarding the career-destroying implications of his actions, to fulfill a personal excellence that is placed far above a desire to keep a job. In the face of an intimidating political party, Clement spoke up when his colleagues would not and set a precedent for climate professionals to come.


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