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Elizabeth Klein an Ethics Catastrophe





Klein helped run the Bloomberg-funded operation that used state Attorneys General to bring environmental litigation, raising serious ethics questions.

The Biden Administration originally intended to nominate Elizabeth Klein for Deputy Secretary but made her Senior Counselor to the Secretary once it was clear she would have a difficult confirmation process. Environmental special interests have described Klein as “the experienced, steady hand to implement the Biden climate plan.”


But what exactly is Klein allowed to work on considering her previous employer's involvement in almost every major issue facing the Department? Over the last four years, she helped run Michael Bloomberg's operation that paid state Attorneys General offices to sue the Trump Administration, including the Department of the Interior. Coincidentally, she's now being rewarded with a chance to be one of Secretary Haaland's senior lawyers and potentially have a role in managing all these matters.


Ethics laws exist to prevent just this type of situation from draining the public's trust in their government officials. So what are Elizabeth Klein's ethics obligations and what is she already working on?   




Elizabeth Johnson Klein worked as a director of communications and government relations for the Foundation. Interestingly, the Foundation’s portfolio grew significantly during the Obama Administration as it was able to secure IP licensing rights to many of the National Park Service’s most cherished brands. The Foundation currently receives millions of dollars annually in revenue from merchandise related to the National Park Service.


After law school, Klein worked as an associate at a major law firm that has strong connections to progressive causes and contributes large sums of money to the Democratic party and candidates. According to, in the 2020 election cycle, the firm’s attorneys gave over $2 million to Democratic candidates running for federal office, constituting 94% of their total contributions. 




Klein served in the Obama Administration in several senior roles, including Associate Deputy Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget. During her tenure, the Department of the Interior was a key player in prosecuting President Obama’s War on Coal and advancing the radical policy goals of environmental special interests. Unfortunately, less focus was paid to the ethics obligations of the Department, which suffered notable scandals of high-ranking officials and allowed a culture of harassment and discrimination to flourish.


During the Trump Administration, Klein joined the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (Center) at the New York University School of Law. The Center is primarily funded by billionaire climate activist, former NYC mayor and one-time presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg. Klein played a pivotal role in standing up and running the Center’s climate litigation program, which placed “pro bono fellows” in the offices of at least a dozen state Attorneys General. 


She served as deputy director to David J. Hayes, her former boss while at Interior and current climate advisor to President Biden. In this role, she provided guidance to fellows and their offices, received reports on funded activity, and handed out compensation, including bonuses, to the Center's “pro bono fellows.” She and Hayes would often insist on meeting with AG offices after receiving their fellows to ensure they understood the arrangement and coordinated their public statements with the Center’s media company and PR team. 


Over her four years at the Center, state AG offices used these “pro bono fellows” to challenge virtually every major policy of the Department of the Interior. Whether it was challenging endangered species regulations, stopping energy exploration and development, or fighting national monument designations, Klein was involved in coordinated opposition on many of the issues she would be charged with administering, if all conflicts of interest are not properly determined. 





On January 18, 2021, the President indicated his intent to nominate Klein to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior. While the White House has since withdrawn its intention to nominate her to be Deputy Secretary, Klein remains at the Department as Senior Counselor to Secretary Haaland. Since day one, she and her colleagues have moved swiftly to stop all new fossil fuel activity, reassess royalty rates, and conduct a "comprehensive review" of all related activities that are opposed by Michael Bloomberg and the environmental special interest community. As a result, any company seeking to move forward with a project or obtain a waiver on otherwise permissible activities must receive approval from a senior political official like Klein. 


With thousands of these decisions being now subject to the whims of Klein and her colleagues, the potential for ethics misconduct and arbitrary decision-making is undeniable. In addition to the numerous other policies and programs that are within the purview of senior leaders like her at the Department, what particular matters will Klein be prohibited from participating in? Will she attempt to involve herself in the same particular matters that state AGs litigated on the Center’s behalf?

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