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Biden Taps Energy Department Lawyer for DOJ Environment Head (2)

March 15, 2021, 7:16 PMUpdated: March 15, 2021, 8:56 PM

President Joe Biden has selected Todd Kim to lead the Justice Department’s environment division.

Kim joined the Biden administration in January as deputy general counsel for the Department of Energy. The White House on Monday announced his nomination to be assistant attorney general overseeing DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

President Barack Obama nominated Kim to be a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 2014, but the Senate never acted on his nomination.

If confirmed for the DOJ post, Kim will play a critical role defending Biden’s ambitious regulatory agenda and enforcing environmental laws. ENRD also handles tribal law and eminent domain issues for the U.S.

The Biden administration has pledged to ramp up criminal prosecutions against polluters and prioritize climate action and environmental justice. The White House in January directed DOJ to consider adding “environmental justice” to ENRD’s name and creating a new office devoted to the issue.

As head of ENRD, Kim would also be tasked with resetting the agenda after Trump-era Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark adopted a series of policies constraining the division’s enforcement tools. Many of those policies have already been sidelined.

‘Impeccable Reputation’

Kim previously spent seven years as an appellate lawyer for ENRD and was the District of Columbia’s first solicitor general. More recently, he’s been a partner at Reed Smith LLP.

Former colleagues describe Kim as highly respected and well-liked, qualities that could turn the tide after Clark’s often rocky relationship with DOJ’s career staff.

“Todd is a fabulous lawyer who has a tremendous commitment to government service,” said Earthjustice senior vice president Sam Sankar, who took over some of Kim’s litigation portfolio when Kim left the Justice Department. “I think he will be the right guy to help heal the department and focus its attention on environmental and climate justice.”

Holland & Hart LLP attorney Kelly Johnson, a top political lawyer in ENRD during the George W. Bush administration, said Kim has “an impeccable reputation.”

“He’s just a really good person,” she told Bloomberg Law. “He’s just a very thoughtful, measured person who is not confrontational, who is not in your face—just, ‘What is the law, what are we trying to accomplish, and how do we get there?’”

Beveridge & Diamond PC lawyer John Cruden, who led ENRD during the Obama years and previously served as a career lawyer, likewise described Kim as “a superb professional in all respects.”

Kim’s experience working as solicitor general for Washington, D.C., which functions much like a state on many permitting issues, would make him especially attuned to the needs of states while leading DOJ’s environmental defense and enforcement work, said former DOJ colleague Sean Donahue, now at Donahue, Goldberg, Weaver & Littleton. State and federal officials often work together, and sometimes clash, on enforcement matters.

Kim has a law degree from Harvard Law School and clerked for Judge Judith Rogers on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He also once appeared on a spin-off of the TV game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

(Adds Donahue comment in 13th paragraph. Previous version corrected reference to District of Columbia Court of Appeals.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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