Elizabeth Klein, Biden official, faces GOP scrutiny over Bloomberg-paid state climate lawyers

A Biden administration official who worked to embed climate activists with state attorneys general, using funds from billionaire Michael Bloomberg, has drawn Republican scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest.

In a Tuesday letter, three House Republicans followed up their June 3 letter to Elizabeth Klein, senior counselor to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, by requesting more information on what steps Ms. Klein has taken to avoid ethical conflicts stemming from her three years at the Bloomberg-financed State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law.

Ms. Klein previously sent the committee documents that include a “list of recusals” with 42 entities, including the states of Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New York and Washington.

But Republicans said there were gaps in her paperwork from the time she joined the administration in January.

“Nearly a month later, the Committee has not received the recusal list or ethics guidance under which Ms. Klein was operating when she testified before Congress in May,” said the letter.

The Interior Department “also failed to respond to subsequent Committee staff e-mails which requested this information to include Ms. Klein’s interim and updated ethics guidance in addition to a status update on the outstanding request items from our June 3, 2021 letter.”

The letter was led by Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, and signed by Republican Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, both also members of that panel.

The White House walked back in March its decision to nominate Ms. Klein for Interior deputy secretary, but she landed on her feet with the senior counselor post, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.

House Republicans quizzed her at a May 25 committee hearing about her work as deputy director of the center, founded in 2017 with a $6 million Bloomberg grant, which places pre-paid lawyers with state attorneys general to work on climate issues and “advance Mr. Bloomberg’s environmental agenda,” the letter said.

The Republicans also asked for more in-depth information on her work at the center, including details on the “regulatory challenges” promoted by the organization and the law fellows assigned to state prosecutors.

At the hearing, Ms. Boebert told Ms. Klein that her nomination was withdrawn “because your conflicts of interest were so severe that you faced bipartisan opposition,” and asked her for a copy of her recusal list.

Said Ms. Klein: “I am happy to provide the list.”

Ten blue states and the District of Columbia have taken on the legal fellows, according to the center, while other states have raised red flags about allowing privately funded activists access to state prosecutorial authority.

The center said in a statement that the “sole duty of loyalty is to the attorney general in whose office he or she serves.” Even so, the Virginia state legislature barred the use of such lawyers in a 2019 biennial budget amendment.

The free-market group Energy Policy Advocates recently filed for a preliminary injunction to “compel Interior to produce compel DoI to release Klein’s ethics recusals letter and related documents,” according to Government Accountability & Oversight, a non-profit representing the group.

“Energy Policy Advocates is glad to see that Congress is taking steps to better understand what disclosures Ms. Klein made in her earliest days at the Department of the Interior regarding her conflicts of interest, and what preliminary steps she took — or didn’t take — to address those concerns,” said EPA executive director Rob Schilling in a Tuesday statement.

The NYU center provides “expertise to interested attorneys general on specific administrative, judicial or legislative matters involving clean energy, climate change and environmental interests,” according to its website, which has recently included work on state climate litigation.

“Those Bloomberg-funded lawyers have assisted in suits against BP, Citgo, Chevron, and more than 20 other fossil fuel companies alleging they are responsible for damage caused by climate change – suits, some defense lawyers say, that rely more on PR campaigns than sound legal arguments,” said Legal Newsline in a June 8 article.

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