U.S. Gulf Coast groups concerned as Trump picks BP lawyer to top DOJ post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s selection of Jeffrey Bossert Clark to be the Justice Department’s top environmental lawyer has raised concerns by Gulf coast environmental groups as he was the lawyer for international oil company BP Plc in the aftermath of the company’s 2010 drilling rig explosion.

Trump named Clark on Wednesday to be Assistant Attorney General for environment at the Department of Justice, representing the U.S. government on environmental regulation and enforcement issues.

Clark, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, represented BP after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and Macondo oil well rupture that killed 11 workers and caused the largest offshore environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The accident polluted large parts of the Gulf, killing marine wildlife and harming businesses.

Along the U.S. Gulf coast, local communities are still grappling with cleanup and restoration, and had relied on the federal government and EPA to protect them against climate change and oil and gas company accidents, said Cynthia Sarthou, director of the Gulf Restoration Network in Louisiana.

“I think the enforcement of any pollution laws is going to be at risk right now,” Sarthou said. “Bossert (Clark) is unlikely to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for pollution.”

Sarthou added that most of the oil and gas infrastructure along the U.S. Gulf coast is aging, putting local environmental groups on alert for future accidents.

“While this administration continues to choose profits over people, South Louisiana residents continue to struggle to recover from the economic, health and environmental impacts of the BP oil drilling disaster,” said Colette Pichon Battle, of the Human Rights Network, a lawyer who represented local communities affected by the BP accident.

According to a White House statement, Clark is a “complex trial and appellate litigator with especially deep experience in administrative law.”

In addition to practicing law in private practice, he also served worked as deputy assistant attorney general for environment at the Justice department from 2001 to 2005.

As an attorney, Clark also represented industry groups in several challenges against the previous administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

This includes a lawsuit to revoke the “endangerment finding,” the scientific finding that gives the agency authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and one to challenge California’s ability to set its own stringent greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles.

Clark was not available for comment.

Reporting By Valerie Volcovici