Democrats are growing increasingly concerned that President-elect Trump is preparing to slash the Energy Department, with the incoming president picking fossil fuel advocate and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lead the department after Trump’s transition team sent a questionnaire that Democrats call a “witch hunt.”

The top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce and Oversight committees, Reps. Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, sent a letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Wednesday blasting the questionnaire, which asked for names of employees who attended international climate change meetings.

“We are concerned that these efforts to single out particular department employees involved in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be an attempt to target DOE employees whose scientific views on climate change differ from those of the incoming Trump administration,” Pallone and Cummings wrote in their joint letter to Pence.

“While the new administration is entitled to select political appointees who share the president-elect’s views on climate change, any effort to retaliate against, undermine, demote or marginalize civil servants on the basis of their scientific analysis would be an abuse of authority,” they said.

Pallone had called the questions a “witch hunt” when they were reported on Friday.

The letter follows criticism by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who said he was “alarmed” by the questionnaire. “This raises serious concerns as to the motivation of such a request and raises questions of possible retribution for following President Obama’s policies,” said the high-ranking Democrat, who added that he is prepared to fight for federal employees if they become political targets.

“I will be following this issue closely and will fight for the rights of federal employees to be respected and protected in doing their duties properly,” Hoyer said. “I hope leaders from both parties will respect our nation’s nonpartisan career civil servants who have served administrations of both political parties professionally and ably.”

Hoyer said Wednesday that the timing of Perry’s nomination in light of the questionnaire only makes the situation more troubling. “The fact that this appointment comes at the same time that the transition team is targeting career civil servants at the department for political purposes should be deeply concerning to all Americans,” he said.

“The president-elect continues to appoint individuals who are either unqualified or who have denigrated the departments they were nominated to lead,” Hoyer added. “In this case, President-elect Trump is nominating someone to run the Department of Energy who has said it should be dismantled.”

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Hoyer said Americans want their government to run more “effectively and efficiently on their behalf,” and did not vote in November for their “government to be destroyed.”

Labor unions are also raising alarm. “There is major concern amongst my members,” said Jeff Eagan with the National Treasury Employees Union, who heads the chapter that represents the department’s employees at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, according to the Washington Post. “I have received lots of calls, emails, messages expressing shock and dismay” about the transition team’s questionnaire.

The 74-question list asks the Obama administration to turn over the names of employees who have attended international conferences on climate change. On Tuesday, the Energy Department told the Washington Examiner that no names will be given over to the Trump transition team, saying the request raised deep concerns among the agency’s staff.

Trump’s transition team on Wednesday disavowed the questionnaire, saying it “was not authorized or part of our standard protocol.”

A group representing environmental researchers, the Union of Concerned Scientists, welcomed the disavowal, but said it did not go far enough.

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“Governor Perry and President-elect Trump must clearly commit to respect the independence of government scientists, refrain from targeting civil servants for working on climate issues, and continue to collect and publish data that is essential to protecting public health and the environment,” said Andrew Rosenberg, one of the group’s program directors.

“Everyone on the transition team needs to know that this kind of action is unacceptable,” Rosenberg said.

Trump’s pick of Perry, who led a major fossil fuel-producing state, is raising concerns that the president-elect may be trying to gut the agency. When Perry ran for president in 2012, he had promised to close the agency, although most people remember more that he forgot the name of the agency, not the question that sparked the brain freeze.

Democrats in the Senate raised the alarm bell just before Trump officially nominated Perry, who has said that the science on climate change is not settled. “The idea that we would put Americans’ economy in jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet, to me, is just nonsense,” he said during the 2012 campaign.

He has favored the oil industry over renewable fuels such as ethanol and has challenged the Environmental Protection Agency in court. His state, however, is the biggest wind energy producer in the country, which it has attributed to free-market forces and not subsidies.

Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on two panels with oversight over energy and environmental matters in the Appropriations and Foreign Relations committees, said Perry will have to demonstrate that he understands the core missions of Department of Energy to win confirmation.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised that President-elect Trump intends to nominate as secretary of energy someone who once said he wants to eliminate the very agency he has been tapped to lead,” Udall said. “Governor Perry’s past comments show a lack of seriousness about the department’s full mission, and I will be listening very closely to his current views on this matter,” he said.

Udall underscored that most of the Energy Department’s work has to do with overseeing nuclear waste management sites and the nation’s nuclear arsenal, which require understanding and vision for how to address the challenges faced in maintaining the nation’s security and public health.

Udall’s state hosts one of the most successful sites in the country for dealing with weapons-related radioactive waste from the defense department, called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP.

“To win the confidence of the American people and the Senate, Governor Perry will need to demonstrate a strong understanding of these complex challenges and lay out a management vision to execute the difficult tasks before the department,” he said.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said the Perry nomination sets an alarming precedent for the future of combating fossil fuel pollution and climate change.

“The Trump administration should expect a fight on all of these nominations,” Markey said.

Trump’s nomination of Perry for energy secretary and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency “are a harbinger of what’s to come under a Trump administration,” he said. “Both Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry have spoken about eliminating the very agencies they are now nominated to lead and have denied the science of climate change.”

Markey said the questionnaire sent by the transition team is “tantamount to an illegal modern-day political witch hunt.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who will play a significant role in Perry’s confirmation, welcomed his nomination.

“I welcome the president-elect’s nomination of former Gov. Rick Perry to be secretary of energy,” Murkowski said. “I strongly believe the leadership at this department should have a broad understanding of the need to increase access to energy, make it more affordable, and improve environmental performance – all key factors that should drive our nation’s innovation policy,” she said Wednesday.

Murkowski said she has a list of issues she wants to raise with the nominee, including the future of nuclear energy in America, exporting more of the nation’s natural gas, dealing with the high cost of energy in Alaska, and the the future of the 40-year-old Strategic Petroleum Reserve that the Energy Department oversees.

She said the energy committee is scheduling a hearing to consider his nomination in early January.

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