Watchdog Groups Continue to Raise Ethics Concerns over Top Interior Counsel

Watchdog Groups Continue to Raise Ethics Concerns over Top Interior Counsel

  • May 25, 2021

Elizabeth Klein will testify at subcommittee hearing despite ongoing questions regarding potential conflicts of interest

Today, Energy Policy Advocates and Protect the Public’s Trust renew their calls for the Department of the Interior to release public records and address the serious questions regarding senior political appointee Elizabeth Klein’s potential conflicts of interest. This afternoon, Klein will testify before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife. It is likely that she will face numerous questions involving Department matters which could represent potential conflicts of interest for Klein, in light of her work for several state Attorney General’s offices which participated in litigation against the Department while she was employed by the Bloomberg-funded State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (“Center”).

Klein, through her former employer, provided representation to state AGs on numerous multi-state lawsuits and challenges to regulations. Public records show that during the course of this representation, Klein’s clients and even her own employees placed in the AG offices entered legal agreements with California’s AG, often signed by the Center’s “Fellows.” As Klein serves in a position requiring advising the Secretary on Endangered Species Act regulations, the Shasta Dam or the California Valley Project biological opinions, the Department continues to withhold all information regarding Klein’s disclosures about her representation of AGs, recusals and guidance from the Department’s ethics office.

“Elizabeth Klein’s appearance before this subcommittee revives questions of her myriad potential conflicts of interest,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, stated. “With the vast breadth of her former clients and the matters they were involved in, if she only addresses areas that do not constitute potential conflicts, it may be a short hearing indeed. The Department of the Interior’s apparent unwillingness to provide the public with the ethics guidance provided to Klein does not inspire trust.”

Executive Director Rob Schilling of Energy Policy Advocates, which today filed its second federal FOIA lawsuit for records pertaining to Klein’s work, adds:

“Public records leave no doubt that Elizabeth Klein entered agreements to serve as an attorney for numerous state offices of the attorney general, and that this representation included ‘particular matters’ in which those offices are adverse to DOI, on which Ms. Klein would ordinarily be expected to work given her position. Energy Policy Advocates laid this out in a letter to DOI’s Ethics Office, providing links to contracts and even a recent state court of appeals opinion affirming this, requesting the Ethics Office release what are well-understood to be public records. Yet, in reversing longstanding practice, the Department has clamped down on release of the documents that would show what Ms. Klein disclosed to her Ethics officer and when she disclosed it.”



Will the hearing allow the American public to learn:

1. Whether the DOI Ethics office is aware of the role Ms. Klein played in representing many state AGs in particular matters now under her purview at the Department? Did Ms. Klein in fact disclose that she was these AGs’ attorney on particular matters? If not, how does she explain a recent court ruling denying the public access to records pertaining to the representation in question? If so, what particular matters has the Ethics Office advised Ms. Klein to recuse herself from?

2. Whether or not Ms. Klein has received proper ethics guidance and a recusal letter outlining her ethical obligations from the DOI Ethics Office?

3. Has Ms. Klein been recused from all particular matters involving California and western water, including those relating to Shasta Dam and the Central Valley Project operations?

4. Has Ms. Klein been recused from other matters in which state AGs are presently in litigation or undertaking regulatory challenges, including for instance, litigation surrounding the previous administration’s ESA rules?