Justice Department Environment Pick Downplays BP Defense Work

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By David Schultz

Past work defending BP PLC after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and personal opposition to the EPA’s climate change efforts would have no bearing on running the Justice Department’s environmental office, President Donald Trump’s nominee said.

Jeffrey Bossert Clark told senators at his June 28 confirmation hearing that, if approved to head the Environment and Natural Resources Division, he would vigorously defend his federal agency clients just as he has defended corporate clients.

“Client agencies are the ones who make policies. I don’t think my personal views are relevant,” Clark said.

During the hearing, Democrats pressed him about his work for corporate clients such as BP, his views on climate change, and his affiliation with the Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies.

‘Hired to Do a Job’

Several Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), grew frustrated with Clark’s evasion and pleaded with the committee’s chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), to force him to answer their queries.

Though he expressed concern with the issue of the Trump administration stonewalling congressional inquiries, Grassley said it wouldn’t be appropriate to demand that Clark talk about his views on environmental issues in this case.

“What Democrats really need to know is these guys are hired to do a job,” Grassley told reporters after the hearing. “They leave their personal views out.”

Grassley also said he expects his committee to cast a vote on Clark’s nomination late next month.

No Fan of Chevron

Clark has been at the firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP since 1996, with the exception of a four-year period during the George W. Bush administration when he served in the Justice Department.

While at the department, he was the second-in-command at its environment division, in charge of its appellate work. If confirmed, Clark would be in charge of the entire environment division, which prosecutes civil and criminal environmental violations and also defends the Environmental Protection Agency and others when their actions are challenged in court.

Last year, Clark testified before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of a bill that would have reined in the regulatory authority of federal agencies. The bill, which passed the House but died in the Senate, would have effectively overturned the so-called Chevron doctrine, in which courts defer to agencies’ interpretations of ambiguous laws.

Chevron has been a failed experiment,” Clark said at the May 2016 hearing. It has resulted in “too much authority being given to the executive branch.”

Criticism for Writings

When asked about Chevron at his confirmation hearing, however, Clark told the senators, “As we sit here today, Chevron is still good law and I would enforce it.”

Though there were three other nominees being considered at the hearing, the majority of the senators’ questions were directed at Clark.

He came under the most intense questioning from Democrats on the issue of articles he wrote for the Federalist Society’s website on the issue of climate change. In these articles, Clark criticized EPA decisions to classify greenhouse gasses as dangerous pollutants and its reliance on United Nations-backed climate science.

“You have gone beyond role of a lawyer,” Whitehouse told him. “You’ve been a political advocate against climate science.”

Clark responded by pointing to his record at the Justice Department during the Bush administration as an indication that he would defend agencies and enforce environmental laws objectively.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schultz in Washington at dschultz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Environment & Energy Report