A Democratic Presidential nominee has given money to a law school that has quietly spread lawyers throughout the United States pushing for “green” environmental solutions in energy and environmental protection laws. Since its founding in 2017, Michael Bloomberg’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University School of Law has embedded climate lawyers as special assistants in attorneys general offices in 9 states including Illinois. Bloomberg gave a $6 million grant to the organization shortly after it was founded.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office responded to an inquiry about any lawyers connected to Environmental Impact Center saying that they have employed fellows to New York University’s School of Law. Currently, Assistant Attorney General Jason James is a fellow from NYU’s law school’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center.
Annie Thompson, Senior Press Secretary for Raoul’s Office said in an email: “Regardless of the law school with which the fellowship is affiliated, attorneys work to advance the office’s mission, including the Attorney General’s commitment to protecting public health and preserving Illinois’ environment and natural resources for all who live and work in Illinois.”
Republican lawmakers have pushed back against the special assistants, calling it bypassing the legislative process and leveraging the power of public prosecutors to go after the oil and gas industry. Some also have questioned the label of “pro bono” work by the special assistants, saying they are being privately funded by the Bloomberg-backed organization. The Commonwealth of Virginia inserted an amendment in their 2019 biennial budget requiring those working for the attorney general to be state or federal government employees with certain exceptions and paid solely with public funds. In New York, the Bloomberg-backed assistants caused an Exxon-Mobil lawsuit to get tossed out because they had improperly filed affidavits in the case. The Washington Times outlined the hiring of the special assistants in a “hostile takeover” of the Michigan Attorney General’s office through an open records request by the public interest law firm Government Accountability & Oversight.
The State Impact Center has said they are a nonpartisan group working on protecting existing environmental regulations, addressing climate change through the law and have denied any wrongdoing or political motivation in the filing of lawsuits and litigation.