A New York University School of Law program funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg is placing lawyers in the offices of Democratic state attorneys general and paying them to prosecute energy companies and challenge Trump administration policies on energy and the environment.
Nine states and Washington, D.C., including New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, are participating in the multimillion-dollar program funded by the media magnate and ex-New York City mayor, who re-registered as a Democrat this week amid expectations of a run for president in 2020.
The 14 current fellows in the program report to the attorneys general, but they are paid by NYU’s Bloomberg-funded State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. State AG offices hire these trained lawyers – not students but seasoned professionals with years of experience – as special assistant attorneys general. Under terms of the arrangement, the fellows work solely to advance progressive environmental policy at a time when Democratic state attorneys general have investigated and sued ExxonMobil and other energy companies over alleged damages due to climate change.
Although many government agencies have employees funded by outside sources, critics say using special interest money for targeted government action is inappropriate. Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who wrote a report on the NYU center, said the fellowships come with specific strings attached. “[AG] offices must agree to use prosecutors to ‘advance progressive clean energy, climate change, and environmental legal positions,’” Horner said.
David J. Hayes, the center’s executive director, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Amy Spitalnick, communications director and policy adviser to acting New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, vigorously defended the program. “The NYU center,” she said, “has no role in supervising the fellows.”
Spitalnick also seemed to indicate the partisanship in play when she cited a 2011 report that found former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt may have relied heavily on the advice of the oil and gas industry when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general.
“Climate deniers continue to find new and creative ways to distract from reality,” she said.
The center was launched in mid-August 2017 with a reported grant of nearly $6 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable entity controlled by the billionaire. It is billed as a non-partisan project to help “state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advance clean energy, climate change [responses], and environmental values and protections.”
Personally and through his political groups, Bloomberg has also donated millions of dollars to Democratic attorneys general campaigns in this midterm election cycle. For Democratic campaigns in general, he has announced plans to spend $80 million this year.
Some of the fellows from the NYU program developed their legal acumen at progressive advocacy organizations such as the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council. Others served under Bloomberg during his mayoral tenure in New York – for example, Sarah Kogel-Smucker, now an NYU fellow in the District of Columbia government.
The fellows have played a role in filing at least 130 regulatory, legal and other challenges to federal environmental policies since 2017, according to a review of filings.
The full extent of the attorneys’ participation in many cases is veiled by attorney-client confidentiality. In an email last year to Democratic-held offices, Hayes wrote that “we are engaged with ethics experts and individuals in some of your offices to ensure confidentiality” of the program’s work. The email was provided to RealClearInvestigations by the office of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat.
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October 11, 2018 at 08:29AM