The Trump administration’s concerted assaults on climate change, the environment in general, and endangered species have resulted in modest legal staff turnover at federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Interior and Energy. There have been handful of terminations as well as attorneys who have left due to policy disagreements. In addition, lawyers who might have aspired to government service in these arenas have opted instead to look elsewhere for employment.
However, these same policies are invigorating legal hiring by advocacy nonprofits who are fighting these same policy reversals. Organizations such as the following selected ones are bolstering their legal staffs (and parallel offices that also employ lawyers in quasi-legal capacities):
- Earth Policy Institute
- Friends of the Earth
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Nature Conservancy
- Pew Charitable Trusts Environment Group
- Sierra Club
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- Environmental Defense Fund
- National Wildlife Federation
- Trust for Public Land
- League of Conservation Voters
- The Conservation Fund
This is by no means a complete list of advocacy organizations that are flexing their muscles today.
These entities are able to increase their professional staffs because they are flush with more funds than at any time in their history due to a huge increase in donations from both big donors and the general public fearful of Trump administration anti-environmental and anti-conservation efforts as well as its denial of climate change.
This kind of phenomenon happened once before. In the early 1980s, the newly arrived Reagan administration arrived in Washington, DC intent on rolling back the environmental movement that had begun in the 1960s and gained tremendous traction in the 1970s. Its two principal anti-environmental appointees, Interior Secretary James Watt and EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch (yes, the mother of the newest Supreme Court Justice) became lightning rods for the movement, which raised similarly large amounts of money from donors who opposed policies such as oil drilling on public lands. They were the avatars of Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt.
This could be a rare opportunity to dive into an exciting career that will surely carry over once the current disruption wanes.
Environmental and climate change advocacy is not the only arena where this phenomenon is taking place. Other public interest and advocacy organizations are experiencing similar donation surges and reinvigorated missions.