The government scientist from Maine who drew national attention for a very public whistleblower complaint against the Trump administration resigned from his post Wednesday via a fiery letter blasting the conduct and motives of his boss, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and calling for him to step down.

“You have played fast and loose with government regulations to score points with your political base at the expense of American health and safety,” Joel Clement, a 1984 graduate of Falmouth High School, wrote to Zinke in his resignation letter. “Secretary Zinke, your agenda profoundly undermines the (Interior Department’s) mission and betrays the American people.”

Until this summer, Clement was the director of the department’s Office of Policy Analysis, where he examined the effects of climate change on native communities in Alaska. But in June he was reassigned to an accounting office that collects royalties from oil and gas companies, part of a shakeup ordered by Zinke that reassigned dozens of senior officials to jobs in which they had no background.

Clement filed a complaint July 19 with the agency that protects federal whistleblowers, asserting he was reassigned in retaliation for publicizing the impact of climate change on Alaskan native villages, and spoke out about how he was treated in a Washington Post OpEd. An investigation is ongoing.

In an interview Wednesday night with the Portland Press Herald, Clement said he hadn’t planned to quit, but changed his mind after Zinke’s Sept. 25 remarks to oil and gas executives that “30 percent of the crew” at Interior wasn’t “loyal to the flag” and was reluctant to repeal mining and gas drilling regulations on public lands.

“I realized at that point that he isn’t there to work with the career staff to advance the agency and its mission, he’s there to reverse everything they can from the Obama years and shrink the government, and it’s profoundly wrong,” Clement said. “The middle managers have to manage staff that are completely demoralized.”


He said Zinke’s official review of national monuments – including Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine – was written up without the involvement of career staff, resulting in sloppy errors and ignorance about how management of each had been conducted. “The pros and cons were not explored,” Clement said. “It was a political effort.”

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

In his resignation letter, Clement accused Zinke and President Trump of betraying the public, charging them with “an all-out assault on the civil service” and “an arbitrary and sloppy review” of national monument designations.

“It is well-known that you, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt and President Trump are shackled to special interests such as oil, gas and mining,” he wrote to Zinke. “You are unwilling to lead on climate change and cannot be trusted with our nation’s natural resources.”

More than 30 native villages in the northwestern part of Alaska are in the midst of relocating because of thawing permafrost and storm damage and erosion exacerbated by the loss of protective sea ice in winter. Many are having difficulties paying for the expensive moves to safer locations.

In the months after Trump’s election, Clement said he discussed the villagers’ plight at the White House and the United Nations, and at conferences in Alaska and Sweden, which displeased his superiors at Interior, leading to his reassignment.


Clement grew up in Falmouth before attending the University of Virginia and a graduate forest-biology program at The Evergreen State College in Washington State. He joined the Interior Department in 2010 after working on climate adaptation for the Seattle-based Wilburforce Foundation, a conservation group.

Clement doesn’t have any immediate professional plans, but intends to keep in touch with his former colleagues and to help publicize any “bad things happening in the agency.”

Zinke, who has recommended that the Katahdin national monument in northern Maine be opened to “active timber management,” is being investigated by the department’s inspector general for his use of chartered flights, including a $12,375 trip from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

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