NYU School of Law

NEW YORK – Democratic state attorneys general, like Pennsylvania's Josh Shapiro, are getting free help from New York University School of Law to bolster their environmental causes, though a Commonwealth business advocacy group worries this results in important work being outsourced to an out-of-state entity.

It was announced in August that a nearly-$6 million funding grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, administered through the NYU School of Law’s recently formed State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, will dispatch special prosecutors to the offices of several state attorneys general to advance policies aimed at the development of renewable energy, protecting the environment and addressing climate change.


David J. Hayes, the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center’s Executive Director, said, “Each of the attorney general offices chosen to participate has demonstrated a commitment to advancing progressive policies on clean energy, the environment and climate change.”

Hayes is a former deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the Department of the Interior, for presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Since leaving government service five years ago, he has served as a professor at Stanford University Law School.

“State attorneys general play a unique role in defending the citizens of their states from environmentally destructive actions and in advocating for the interests of their constituents. NYU Law fellows will allow them to play an even greater role protecting their states,” Hayes added.

Initially, Washington, D.C. and six states were chosen for the first phase of this program: Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York and Washington. In December, it was announced that Oregon, Virginia and Pennsylvania would join the list.

All 10 attorneys general are Democrats, and some have made national headlines in this area before. New York's Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts' Maura Healey continue to push their states' investigation of Exxon's stance on climate change, for instance.

A total of 14 NYU School of Law fellows will be sent to these attorney general offices now enrolled in the program for a tenure of two years and be paid strictly through the NYU School of Law, not from public funds.

It has left organizations like the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), an advocacy group dedicated to “addressing issues regarding the production of clean, job-creating, American natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays," concerned about the implications of a program like this one.

“We’re alarmed that the Attorney General is outsourcing the office’s important work – which should be objectively and unbiasedly focused on enforcing Pennsylvania’s laws – to an out-of-state entity,” MSC President David Spigelmyer said.

“If not legally questionable, it certainly raises ethical issues and possibly threatens the office’s integrity and independence to serve the people of Pennsylvania. Like all Pennsylvanians, we expect our Attorney General – no matter which party holds the office – to uphold and fairly enforce the Commonwealth’s laws free from partisan, out-of-state activist influence.”

The states involved are seeking to hire candidates for these special prosecutor positions who possess at least 5-10 years of experience in environmental and energy law. It’s an assist Shapiro welcomes.

“Every Pennsylvanian has a constitutional right to clean air and pure water, which is why protecting Pennsylvania’s environment is a top priority of my office. In our first year, I appointed Pennsylvania’s first-ever Chief Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection [Steve Santarsiero]. My office has successfully blocked harmful national efforts to roll back ozone protections and fought for tougher emission standards for automobiles and enforcement of limits on greenhouse gases,” Shapiro said in a December statement.

The NYU School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center said every AG in the country had the opportunity to apply for the program.

“Based on applications, we selected the strongest ones,” spokesman Christopher Moyer said.

Moyer added the key elements of choosing the states in the application process were “demonstrating need and demonstrating commitment” toward the Center’s values on environmental issues. 

Moyer explained that he didn’t believe an NYU law fellow had been hired for Pennsylvania as of yet, and the timeline in which that process would take place would be up to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.

Another point of discussion is the salary the candidate fellows will be paid, which as mentioned, is directly from the NYU School of Law.

“It is based on experience, and it also depends on what would be appropriate for that level of a special assistant in the attorney general’s office. These can vary by state, so it’s in accordance with each individual state AG office. That’s a determination that AG Shapiro’s team would make,” Moyer said.

As to specific tasks to be targeted by the candidate fellow, Moyer commented that would also be determined by Shapiro’s office, but generally speaking, the role would focus on regionally and nationally-significant issues of the environment, climate and energy.

In a forward-looking sense, Moyer said the Center is currently devoting its efforts to the states which have been chosen to participate in the program so far – but didn’t rule out the possibility of future expansion.

“If there is room for growth, then we’re sure we would consider expanding. But right now, I think we’re focused on helping these offices get up and running and take on more ability to focus on this important legal work,” Moyer stated.

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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