Like Perry, Ex-Chief Abraham Made Moves To End Energy Department
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President-elect Donald Trump has chosen former Texas Governor Rick Perry to be his energy secretary, and here's someone who thinks Perry would be good in the job.
SPENCER ABRAHAM: He's got a military background, and he comes from a state that has a huge, diverse energy portfolio.
GREENE: That's former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. He worked under President George W. Bush and has something in common with Rick Perry. Before being chosen to lead the Energy Department, he had called for the Energy Department to be abolished. For Abraham, that was back when he was a U.S. senator from Michigan.
ABRAHAM: I did obviously have to tell employees, the department, that I was committed and, you know, wanted to work with them and build a trust.
GREENE: You had a credibility problem that you had to get over.
ABRAHAM: Yeah, yeah. And, I mean, I think we did OK on that. I'm - you know, I can't be the judge of that. But I thought that it's certainly surmountable and obviously he'll have to figure out how he wants to characterize things.
GREENE: Now, Rick Perry has also worried some people because he is a climate change skeptic. We raised that issue with Spencer Abraham, beginning with this question.
Do you believe in climate change, that the science is settled?
ABRAHAM: I actually have worked on the boards of companies that are active in addressing a lot of the climate change issues. At this point, no one has the categorical answer to the question of how fast the climate's changing and when we're going to face consequences from that.
GREENE: I just - I just want to be really, really careful with this because a lot of people would hear what you were saying and they would say that you don't believe the science is settled, that you might be denying that climate change is (unintelligible).
ABRAHAM: Well, that's - you know, I think that's the problem right now, to be honest with you. I think that's the problem because if people say we don't have total information, they suddenly become treated as climate deniers.
GREENE: I mean, there are a lot of people out there who feel the science is absolutely settled, that humans are causing the climate to change. I mean, do you - even though there are a lot of questions to be answered as time goes on, do you believe that that is the case?
ABRAHAM: I believe that the climate is changing. I believe that it is likely that humans are playing a role in that. How fast it's changing is the main issue I think that we have to deduce now. And in the meantime, I think moving forward with nuclear energy, renewable energy, energy efficiency and more natural gas are all ways that we're going to change the energy mix in a positive direction.
GREENE: Mr. Secretary, it sounds like some of the very questions I'm asking you have been asked by the Trump transition team in a questionnaire that was circulated at the Department of Energy asking for the names of people who have been involved in climate change programs, people who've gone to conferences. I spoke to a former colleague of yours from President George W. Bush's administration, Christine Todd Whitman who ran the EPA at the time. I asked her about this questionnaire, and here's what she said.
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CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN: If I were a federal employee, I'd be very nervous about it. Why? Why would you need to know that? If they are a career civil servant that's carrying out the policies of the incumbent administration, why do you need to know that they've been good civil servants for this one issue?
GREENE: It sounds like she's saying that civil servants in the department should be nervous if the incoming president is...
ABRAHAM: Yeah, I don't know - I don't see why they need to be because it seems to me it's perfectly typical for the new administration to want to know what the current people working in a department are doing. And the idea that that shouldn't be provided is, first of all, I think, silly. And second, the people who are career people shouldn't be worried. They're career people. They can't be, you know, punished for what they've done in a previous administration. I can't imagine that will happen.
GREENE: Couldn't they be fired by the Trump administration if...
ABRAHAM: Well, they're not political appointees.
GREENE: And there's no way that a civil servant scientist could be pressured or fired if the Trump administration believes that...
ABRAHAM: I'm not going to speculate on some - I mean, look, if you're going to take that kind of approach that that's the immediate supposition, I mean, you know, you're taking it to the extreme.
GREENE: Is it normal practice? I mean, did you do that? Did the the Bush transition team do this when you were coming in and starting at the department?
ABRAHAM: Well, first of all, it changes when there's actually a designated person to serve in the Cabinet. And I think whatever happened before Rick Perry's announcement is, you know, sort of prologue. Again, I'm not saying that, you know, somebody couldn't read into it what you're reading into it. But at the same time, I think you could read into it simply that there's an effort to try to find out who's working on what and how much time has been devoted to the various priorities of the department.
GREENE: All right, Spencer Abraham, always great talking to you. Thank you so much.
ABRAHAM: Thanks, yep.
GREENE: That is former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. We should say the Trump transition team has walked away from that effort to identify people who have worked on climate change. The Energy Department had already declined to share any names. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.