As the transition into the next presidential term moves forward, we take a look at Donald Trump’s nominations and appointments in science and technology-related fields.
Rick Perry, former governor of the energy-rich state of Texas, has been nominated by Trump to be Secretary of Energy. The bulk of the Energy Department’s budget goes toward maintaining the country’s cache of nuclear warheads, as well as cleaning up nuclear waste left behind by military weapons programs. The Energy Department also manages the country’s national laboratories, sets appliance standards, and distributes grants and loan guarantees for things such as research, solar cells, and trapping carbon dioxide that results from coal combustion.
During Perry’s 2011 presidential campaign, he mentioned in a primary debate that he wanted to eliminate three federal agencies, and then went on to name only the Commerce and Education Departments while struggling to remember the third. About 15 minutes later he said that the Department of Energy is the third agency he wished to eliminate.
Georgia Rep. Tom Price is Trump’s pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price is an orthopedic surgeon who is expected to help lead the charge against the Affordable Care Act. Price has been introducing Congressional bills since 2009 to offer detailed replacement plans for the ACA. His proposed Patients First Act would repeal the ACA and instead offer age-adjusted tax credits for individuals and families to buy health insurance policies. It would also establish incentives for people to contribute money to health savings accounts, and it would give grants to states to subsidize insurance for “high-risk populations,” among other initiatives. Price has also backed legislation that would bar federal funds for Planned Parenthood, due to his objections against their abortion practices. (The current version of the Hyde Amendment largely prohibits federal dollars from paying for abortions; exceptions include rape or incest, or if the life of the mother is in danger.)
(Many had pegged former presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson as the likely nominee for HHS; however, Trump has nominated the retired neurosurgeon for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development instead.)
It was recently announced that Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke is the pick for Secretary of the Interior. The Interior Department is in charge of over 500 million acres of federal public lands, including close to 400 national parks and federal monuments, plus many dams and reservoirs. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander who was awarded two Bronze Stars for his service in Iraq, won his second term in the November 2016 election. He is a member of the House’s Natural Resources Committee; he disagrees with the Republican party on their platform of supporting the transfer of federal public lands to the states. A supporter of coal, oil, and gas exploration, Zinke is in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline project.
Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, has come under fire for what’s called a “close relationship” with Russian president Vladimir Putin — especially in light of allegations that the Kremlin tried to influence the result of the U.S. election. (Putin’s spokesman has denied these claims.) Exxon Mobil’s business dealings are also under scrutiny as a result of Tillerson’s nomination, as Exxon has billions of dollars’ worth of oil contracts with Russia that depend on U.S. sanctions being lifted.
On Dec. 9, Dow Chemical Co. Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris was named to head the Trump administration’s new American Manufacturing Council. The group’s goal is to help revitalize manufacturing in the U.S. The announcement was made at a Trump post-election rally in Grand Rapids, Mich. Liveris took the stage at the rally to announce that Dow will open a new innovation center in Midland, Mich., which will support about 200 R&D jobs in the state — including 100 newly created jobs and an additional 100 “repatriated” jobs from other Dow facilities around the globe.
Oklahoma attorney general and fossil fuel industry ally Scott Pruitt has been tapped to run the Environmental Protection Agency. His official bio states that he “filed the first lawsuit challenging the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and is a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” (All his EPA lawsuits have failed.) Scott co-authored a May 2016 article in National Review where he accused a group of Democratic attorneys general of using “intrusive investigations, costly litigation, and criminal prosecutions to silence critics of its climate-change agenda”; he also stated that President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan would close coal-fired power plants and increase American consumers’ electricity bills, and further said that the debate on climate change is far from over. Christie Todd Whitman, a Republican who served as governor of New Jersey before resigning to become head of the EPA under President George W. Bush, has slammed Trump’s choice of Pruitt, while others such as Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have stated that Pruitt is the right choice to lead the Agency.
Meanwhile, a Washington Post report says that the Department of Energy has denied a request from Trump to provide his team with the names of federal employees who have worked on climate change programs. A survey of 74 questions was sent to the Energy Department on Dec. 6, asking for names of workers and contractors who went to U.N. climate meetings, as well as those who’d attending meetings on the social cost of carbon. The survey also asked the Department to name the professional society memberships of workers at the 17 national laboratories, as well as all of their recent publications. Trump’s team later disavowed the situation, saying that the questionnaire was not authorized and “the person who sent it has been properly counseled.”
A further Post report says that U.S. scientists are frantically copying and backing up their scientific data, fearful that the Trump administration will try and erase it. A “guerrilla archiving event” at the University of Toronto “seeks to archive the federal online pages and data that are in danger of disappearing during the Trump administration.” The event is in conjunction with San Francisco-based Internet Archive’s End of Term 2016 project, an effort to find and archive valuable pages on federal websites. This has been implemented through several presidential transitions, not just the Obama-Trump handover.