The Trump administration moved Tuesday to distance itself from a leading climate-change skeptic who was part of the team leading the transition for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – an appointment that had alarmed NOAA employees.
An official with the Department of Commerce, the agency overseeing NOAA, said Kenneth Haapala no longer had a role in the transition and did not take part in meetings about potential appointments. The official, who contacted McClatchy but spoke only on the condition of anonymity, citing departmental policy, was unable to say when Haapala had stopped serving on the transition team.
Haapala heads the Science and Environmental Policy Project and serves as a policy expert at the Heartland Institute, organizations that have long criticized climate change scientists, including those at NOAA, and attempted to discredit their work.
Haapala couldn’t be reached for comment this week, but as recently as Saturday he had gone online to defend his “unpaid, temporary position on the Department of Commerce transition, landing team.”
Writing in his “Week That Was” newsletter on Saturday, Haapala responded to a Jan. 24 letter sent to President Donald Trump by two congressional Democrats demanding that Haapala be removed from the Department of Commerce transition team. Haapala said he’d long faced political attacks for challenging scientific findings that human activities were contributing to climate change.
“Daring to confront conventional thinking has its own responsibilities and penalties,” he wrote.
NOAA employees interviewed by McClatchy expressed alarm that Haapala would have a role in the agency’s management. But according to the senior Commerce Department official, Haapala did not attend meetings or offer up names for appointments while serving in the transition.
“From inauguration on forward, he has not had a role,” the official said.
Haapala’s involvement with the Department of Commerce transition was disclosed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva in a letter they wrote to Trump last week demanding Haapala’s removal. The White House did not respond to a request for comment Monday. On Tuesday, it said Haapala no longer had a role in the transition.
Stuart Leavenworth: @sleavenworth