Pri­vate hires in state AG of­fices raise con­cerns

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Opinion -

With the courts and Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion rolling back fed­eral cli­mate reg­u­la­tion, green ac­tivists have turned to the states. But there’s a trou­bling eth­i­cal twist: In­stead of merely lob­by­ing, ac­tivists are plac­ing em­ploy­ees in At­tor­neys Gen­eral of­fices in du­bi­ous pri­vate-pub­lic con­do­mini­ums.

Con­sider a remarkable ar­range­ment bro­kered by the NYU Law School’s State En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Cen­ter to fund le­gal ser­vices for state AGs.

The group was launched in Au­gust 2017 to ad­vance a lib­eral cli­mate and en­ergy agenda, cour­tesy of a $6 mil­lion grant from Bloomberg Phi­lan­thropies, which also fi­nanced the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal cam­paign.

In Au­gust 2017 the NYU out­fit emailed then-New York At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Sch­nei­der­man’s of­fice, of­fer­ing to cover the salary and ben­e­fits of “spe­cial as­sis­tant at­tor­neys gen­eral,” pend­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion from the of­fice that demon­strated how the new at­tor­neys would be used.

Th­ese pri­vately funded staffers would work out of an AG’s of­fice for two years and de­liver quar­terly progress re­ports to the State En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Cen­ter.

Those progress re­ports would ex­plain “the con­tri­bu­tion that the le­gal fel­low has made to the clean en­ergy, cli­mate change, and en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives” within the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, ac­cord­ing to a December 2017 draft of an agree­ment be­tween the Cen­ter and the New York AG ob­tained by Chris Horner of the Com­pet­i­tive En­ter­prise In­sti­tute.

At­tor­neys Gen­eral do some­times bring on le­gal fel­lows or out­side help to han­dle unique cases.

But sub­ject-mat­ter ex­perts aren’t in-house or cho­sen with spe­cific in­tent to pro­mote spe­cific poli­cies, ac­cord­ing to Randy Pep­ple, who was chief of staff for for­mer Wash­ing­ton Repub­li­can AG Rob McKenna.

In the New York case, a spe­cial in­ter­est is fund­ing staffers who could wield state law-en­force­ment power to pun­ish op­po­nents.

The State En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Cen­ter made clear that state AG of­fices would only qual­ify for

A lack of govern­ment trans­parency makes this ar­range­ment es­pe­cially trou­bling.

spe­cial as­sis­tant AGs if they “demon­strate a need and com­mit­ment to de­fend­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal val­ues and ad­vanc­ing pro­gres­sive clean en­ergy, cli­mate change, and en­vi­ron­men­tal le­gal po­si­tions,” ac­cord­ing to the Au­gust 2017 email to nu­mer­ous AGs.

Mr. Sch­nei­der­man’s of­fice sug­gested in its ap­pli­ca­tion for the fel­lows that it “needs ad­di­tional at­tor­ney re­sources to as­sist” in ex­tract­ing com­pen­sa­tion from fos­sil-fuel emit­ters.

That’s ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing.

The New York AG cur­rently has two NYU fel­lows on staff, ac­cord­ing to the State En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Cen­ter . ...

A lack of govern­ment trans­parency makes this ar­range­ment es­pe­cially trou­bling.

The New York AG’s of­fice, now run by Act­ing AG Bar­bara Un­der­wood, de­clined to comment . ...

The State En­ergy and En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Cen­ter said in a state­ment that the state of­fices it works with “has the author­ity con­sis­tent with ap­pli­ca­ble law and reg­u­la­tions to ac­cept a Le­gal Fel­low whose salary and ben­e­fits are pro­vided by an out­side fund­ing source.” It added that it places work­ers with AGs who al­ready have a long his­tory of ad­vanc­ing the cen­ter’s en­ergy pri­or­i­ties. “The work that NYU law fel­lows per­form is di­rected by those AGs and not by the Cen­ter,” the Cen­ter said.

At least six state AG of­fices have al­ready brought on board a spe­cial as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral, ac­cord­ing to an Au­gust re­port by Mr. Horner. Be­sides New York, the ju­ris­dic­tions in­clude Mary­land, Mas­sachusetts, Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton and the District of Columbia. In Septem­ber, Mr. Horner learned that Illi­nois and New Mex­ico have brought on spe­cial as­sis­tant AGs as well, which was con­firmed by the NYU out­fit.

The eth­i­cal prob­lems here should be ob­vi­ous.

Pri­vate in­ter­ests are lever­ag­ing the po­lice pow­ers of the state to pur­sue their po­lit­i­cal agenda, while a govern­ment official is let­ting pri­vate in­ter­ests ap­pear to in­flu­ence en­force­ment de­ci­sions.

None of this is re­as­sur­ing about the fair ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice.

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