The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed Jeffrey Bossert Clark, a lawyer who defended BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, to be assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division.
In the 52-to-45 vote, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) joined all Republicans present in voting to confirm Clark.
The DOJ office handles all environmental litigation, including bringing both civil and criminal cases against companies and individuals that violate pollution control laws. The office is responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act and other major federal environmental laws.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Clark — a partner at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP — in the summer of 2017. But the White House had to renominate him this year because the full Senate failed to vote on his nomination before the end of 2017.
At his confirmation hearing in June 2017, Clark declined to answer whether he believes greenhouse gases endanger public health. “It’s pretty simple: Do you believe that greenhouse gases are a threat to Americans’ health and safety?” Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said after repeated attempts to get him to answer the question.
Clark’s past work experience also includes four years as deputy assistant attorney general in the same DOJ division during the George W. Bush administration.
After BP’s massive 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig blowout and subsequent oil spill, Clark successfully defended the company against “a multibillion-dollar appeal brought by 11 Louisiana parishes,” his law firm says. Clark was also lead counsel on BP’s appeal of the historic damages awarded in the Deepwater Horizon case, which was prosecuted by the same division of the Justice Department that Clark will now run.
“The person serving in this position must uphold and enforce our nation’s environmental laws without reservation or ideology,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said Thursday in a statement released after he voted against the nominee.
Clark’s record, however, at both the Department of Justice and in private practice “shows him to have strong opposition to critical environmental protections, including EPA’s efforts to curb climate change, using best available science in policymaking, and safety requirements for offshore oil and gas operations,” Carper said. “The American people expect and deserve much better from the nation’s top environmental lawyer.”
In a 2010 talk at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention, for instance, Clark said the Obama administration’s policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were “reminiscent of kind of a Leninistic program from the 1920s to seize control of the commanding heights of the economy.”
At the convention, Clark also blasted the Environmental Protection Agency, saying its “overly ambitious agenda needs to be checked by judicial review.”
More recently, Clark has argued that administrative agencies, like the EPA, are acting well beyond their constitutional authority. “The agencies aren’t even acting like a junior varsity Congress,” Clark complained last year during a panel hosted by the Center for the Study of the Administrative State. “It’s more like they are a wayward football team. They are calling their own plays.”
Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, expressed disappointment with the Senate’s confirmation of Cook. In a statement Thursday Cook said, “The guy who defended the company that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history is not likely to aggressively go after corporate environmental outlaws.”