Trump’s nominee for top environmental post at DOJ gets Senate panel approval

Jeffrey Clark said the science behind climate change is "contestable."

Jeffrey Clark was part of a legal team that represented BP in lawsuits stemming from the 2010 oil spill. CREDIT: AP Photo/Dave Martin
Jeffrey Clark was part of a legal team that represented BP in lawsuits stemming from the 2010 oil spill. CREDIT: AP Photo/Dave Martin

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve the appointment of D.C.-based lawyer Jeffrey B. Clark as assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. Clark defended BP from charges brought as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, has cast doubt on established climate science, and has questioned the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions 

Clark’s nomination now heads to the Senate floor after the 11-9 committee vote in which all Democrats voted against him. If confirmed by the Senate, Clark would oversee the department’s representation of the EPA, the Department of the Interior, and other federal agencies in court, as well as lead enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.

“After reviewing Mr. Clark’s record and asking him questions during his hearing, I believe he’s not the person to fill this job,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member on the committee, said Thursday immediately prior to the vote.

Feinstein noted there is a scientific consensus that climate change is real and that it is happening now. Over 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and is due to human activity, said Feinstein, who made a point to cite a NASA website to back up this percentage“Mr. Clark, on the other hand, has said that the science behind climate change is ‘contestable,’” she said. “I’m concerned about entrusting the job of enforcing our environmental laws to someone who denies scientific consensus.”

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 run, if confirmed.

In the George W. Bush administration, Clark served as deputy assistant attorney general in the same division of the Justice Department from 2001 to 2005.

Clark, a partner in the Washington office of Kirkland & Ellis, has represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in lawsuits challenging the federal government’s authority to regulate carbon emissions. In court, he has argued that it is inappropriate to base government policy-making on the scientific consensus presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

At the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) also voiced his opposition to Clark’s nomination prior to voting against his confirmation. “What I see is that this whole climate denial nonsense is a racket. It has been run by the fossil fuel industry and its fronts for years and years now. Many are fooled by it. Some go along with it. And a few are knowing propagators of fraud in the midst of this,” Whitehouse said.

“The power of this industry has crept into government through this administration in unprecedented ways, but in ways that our Founding Fathers would recognize and would call corruption,” explained Whitehouse, who concluded his statement by saying he could not support Clark.

Jeffrey Wood, another attorney with deep ties to polluting industries, is serving as assistant attorney general for environmental affairs in an acting role. Southern Co. reportedly paid Wood $240,000 in 2016 to lobby full-time for the company and its Alabama subsidiary at the same time that Wood served alongside soon-to-be attorney general Jeff Sessions as an adviser to the Trump campaign. Wood previously served on Sessions’ staff in the U.S. Senate.

Wood would have been forced to recuse himself from a wide range of cases if selected to serve as permanent assistant attorney general. Not everything has been off-limits to Wood in his acting role, though. Wood has been allowed to argue for the Trump administration in litigation over the EPA’s 2015 ground-level ozone standard and is able to work on cases related to the agency’s Clean Water Act jurisdiction rules.

With a large number of nominees for various positions still waiting for confirmation, it is unclear whether Clark will be approved before the Senate leaves for its August recess, which could happen as soon as this week.