Government scientist claims retaliation for speaking out about climate change

WASHINGTON -- On the remote western coast of Alaska, three small Native Alaskans villages are literally melting into the Arctic Ocean. Scientists blame warmer temperatures due to climate change.

"So the land is just being chewed away, houses are dropping in and frankly they are one big storm away from being completely wiped out," said Joel Clement, a scientist at the U.S. Department of the Interior. "So it is not just a health and safety issue, it is a matter of American lives." 

For the past seven years, Clement has been working to relocate the villages to safer ground.

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Joel Clement

CBS News

Part of his job is to raise awareness about the issue. Last month, he did so at the United Nations. Six days later, he was one of about 50 department employees who were assigned to new jobs.

Clement responded with a whistleblower complaint, demanding an investigation and reassignment to his old job, CBS News correspondent Chip Reid reports.

"I believe that the Trump administration is retaliating against me for disclosing these risks to these Alaska Native villages," Clement said. And, he says, he's facing retaliation for speaking out about climate change; President Trump has repeatedly questioned its existence.

Clement says his new job is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

"They are paying you to do virtually nothing," Reid said.

"That's right," Clement said.

"Because they're hoping you will quit?" Reid asked.

"That's right," Clement said.

He recently published an opinion piece in The Washington Post. "I'm blowing the whistle on the Trump administration," he wrote, that "chooses silence over science."

He says he's received a groundswell of support from other civil servants.

"There is a big appetite to, quote, resist what's happening," Clement said.

CBS News asked the Interior Department for an interview but it said it can't comment on pending whistleblower complaints. In a written statement, the department said personnel moves "are being conducted to better serve the taxpayer and the Department's operations."