Department of Justice

Department of Justice image credit Michal Chodyra

In many ways, the Department of Justice is the “tip of the spear” for the incoming administration’s climate strategy. While DOJ might not lead on the President’s climate agenda, many of its client agencies will. On Day 1, DOJ attorneys will already be engaged in litigation that holds deep implications for federal climate policy. Going forward, they will defend marquee climate initiatives. DOJ could also amplify the administration’s climate agenda by prioritizing cases with a climate nexus and negotiating supplemental climate projects in settlements.

To engage DOJ in this important work, the incoming administration should appoint an environmental transition team that is familiar with DOJ and its role with client agencies; encourage a cooperative relationship between the political teams at ENRD and client agencies; invite DOJ leadership to any inter-agency climate task force that is formed; and enable DOJ involvement in key rulemaking and client enforcement strategies at the earliest possible stages. Within DOJ, top leadership should signal that climate protection is a priority and encourage communication between DOJ components to enhance climate capacity.

DOJ employees pride themselves on loyalty to the mission and respect for the rule of law. Stories of career attorneys stepping off of cases or resigning since 2017 reflect unusually public displays of concern for current administration policies. Environmental enforcement is down and morale is low. Given this, a successful climate strategy should be one that also reinvigorates enforcement, restores integrity to the department, and empowers career attorneys to help drive the climate mission forward.

Lead Authors

Kate Konschnik, Duke University Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, former Environmental Enforcement Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice