Harvard environmental law professor resigns from ConocoPhillips after months of scrutiny | Harvard University

Jody Freeman, a renowned environmental lawyer at Harvard University, has resigned from a high-paying job at oil and gas giant ConocoPhillips, after months of public scrutiny and pressure from climate activists .

“I left the ConocoPhillips board to focus on my research at Harvard and make room for new opportunities,” she wrote on her website Thursday.

Freeman, founding director of Harvard’s environmental and energy law program and a former adviser to President Obama’s administration, served on the fossil fuel company’s board for more than a decade .

She received more than $350,000 a year in salary and stock combined for the position at ConocoPhillips, a company that has been in the spotlight this year following the Biden administration’s controversial approval of its massive drilling project. of $8 billion in Alaska, known as the Willow Project.

In April, reports from the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that Freeman had lobbied the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on behalf of the company, escalating criticism from climate activists, including Harvard students.

Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act say she helped arrange a meeting between senior company officials and an SEC director as the agency worked to draft new regulations on disclosure of corporate emissions.

In correspondence with his then-Harvard colleague John Coates, who was preparing to become acting SEC director, Freeman praised two top ConocoPhillips officials. “They are extremely knowledgeable, thoughtful and interested in problem solving – I can promise you will derive great value from this commitment,” she said of the officials.

Freeman added, “ConocoPhillips is widely recognized as the oil and gas industry leader in climate-related disclosure.” She did not state her affiliation with the agency in the email, in potential violation of Harvard policy. Freeman denied initiating the meeting, insisting that his role at the oil and gas company was “public knowledge” and that his actions complied with Harvard’s conflict of interest rules.

Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, a student-led activist group that provided the emails to the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, welcomed Freeman’s resignation.

“Jody Freeman’s resignation from ConocoPhillips shows the power of well-informed public pressure,” said Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard organizer Phoebe Barr, noting that the organization has published research on industry ties for decades. years.

Freeman had already come under intense scrutiny from climate and campus activists when a Harvard Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability awarded Freeman a major research grant, the Guardian reported in april. The institute had pledged to avoid funding or partnering with “any company that does not share the goal of moving our global economy away from fossil fuels.”

The move sparked widespread outrage on Harvard’s campus. A climate-focused faculty group sent a letter to Harvard’s president-elect and vice provost for climate and sustainability questioning the decision, and students staged a protest calling on Harvard to fire Freeman.

Regina LaRocque, a professor at Harvard Medical School who signed the faculty letter, applauded Freeman’s resignation.

“Kudos to her for doing the right thing,” she said.

A 2021 analysis by Carbon Tracker, an independent research group, found that ConocoPhillips’ climate plans were less robust than those of most other fossil fuel giants. During Freeman’s tenure on the board, ConocoPhillips increased its fossil fuel production, according to The Washington Post.

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