Veteran Justice Department environmental lawyer John Cruden is leaving government service to take over as president of the Environmental Law Institute.
Cruden, who serves as the career deputy assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, is set to start at ELI later this month. A past president of the District of Columbia Bar, Cruden has supervised all federal civil environmental litigation since 1995.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli and Steven McKinney of Birmingham’s Balch & Bingham, who chairs the American Bar Association’s environment section, are among the speakers expected to honor Cruden at a retirement celebration June 22 at Main Justice.
Cruden called his decision to leave Justice “bittersweet,” balancing his love for his government post—“I have the best career job in the government,” he said—with his enthusiasm for his new role leading the Environmental Law Institute. ELI is a nonpartisan research and education outlet based in Washington. Program areas include climate and energy, freshwater and ocean and land and biodiversity.
Responsible for the environmental division’s enforcement and defense sections, Cruden supervises more than 225 lawyers. Recently, he was a leading attorney in the Justice Department’s response to last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Cruden has twice served as acting assistant attorney general for the environment division. (Colleagues once gave him a fake Oscar, noting his “best acting” performance.)
ELI Board Chairman William Eichbaum, Vice President of Marine and Arctic Policy for the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement Cruden has a record as a consensus builder.
“The increasingly contentious and partisan conversations about the environment undermine the effective application of law and environmental policies, and, with them, decades of environmental progress,” Eichbaum said. Cruden “has an unmatched track record of bringing people together and creating real, meaningful solutions to today’s toughest environmental challenges.”
Cruden said in a statement Monday through ELI that “the nation and the world are at an important crossroads. For 40 years, the U.S. has been among the world leaders in developing a legal framework to control pollution and manage our natural resources. Republican and Democratic presidents passed historic laws with broad bi-partisan support from Congress that benefit our nation, our people and our economy. That legacy—the essential framework of an efficient system of governance and level playing field grounded in the rule of law, sound science and public participation—is in jeopardy.”
Eichbaum and the outgoing ELI president, Leslie Carothers, said in a joint message last year that the oil spill in the Gulf "shows that first principles of environmental protection need to be restored and strengthened. The spill resulted from a failure to pay attention to fundamentals."
Arnold & Porter partner Joel Gross, who served as chief of the environment division’s enforcement section under Cruden, called him “truly one of a kind.” Gross said Cruden has been a source of “constancy and consistency” in the division during his two decades of service.
“He is a great lawyer but what makes him so unique is his extraordinary leadership abilities,” said Gross, a member of the firm’s environment practice group. “He personifies the phrase “take charge.”
Carothers is retiring after eight years of service at the Environmental Law Institute. She will be a scholar-in-residence and teach a research seminar at Pace Law School.