John Fitzgerald

Legal and Governance Advisor

John MacKnight Fitzgerald coordinates the legal and governmental strategy for Methane Action. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, John worked in Congress as a legislative aide to help strengthen Superfund and staff the Congressional Solar Energy Caucus. As Counsel to a House Subcommittee, he helped strengthen the Ethics in Government Act and sparked and helped lead an investigation of the Reagan-Bush Campaign of 1980 that unearthed facts leading, among other things, to the Iran Contra investigation. 

John expanded his duties from legislation to include overseeing litigation as Chief Counsel for Defenders of Wildlife for a decade. 

When the Bush I Administration reversed course in the final weeks of negotiating the Convention on Biological Diversity and decided to weaken the draft of the treaty, John briefed Katie McGinty of Senator Gore’s staff since he headed the Congressional delegation to Rio.  John flew to Nairobi for the final negotiations.  He warned other delegations of what was up and helped stop most of the Bush team’s proposals to weaken the treaty. He wrote the operative part of the definition of sustainable use as a better alternative.

In Rio, at the Earth Summit in 1992, he briefed Senator Tim Wirth, ex-Governor Jerry Brown and others and led the NGOs in resisting a separate Forest Treaty that would have been dominated by commercial harvesting interests and on the grounds that forests are covered well by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). 

In May of 1993 Fitzgerald led a briefing on Environmental Impact Statements (Article 14.1 and 2) at the CBD preparatory conference in Trondheim, Norway and that fall he was the NGO representative on the Clinton Administration delegation to the initial Conference of the Parties of the CBD.

After leaving Defenders, Fitzgerald represented other conservation groups and went on to become a member of the Policy Bureau of the US Agency for International Development under President Clinton.  He won a Whistleblower Protection Act victory against the Bush Administration for alerting Speaker Pelosi and the Washington Post among others to ongoing violations by the U.S. Treasury of the Pelosi Amendment to the International Financial Institutions Act requiring Environmental Impact Statements by the World Bank before the US could vote for projects posing serious risks to the environment. 

He then served as the policy director, lobbyist, and/or board member of other conservation groups including Green America and the Environmental Investigation Agency.  

As policy director for the Society for Conservation Biology, John brought science to bear on policy to protect biodiversity and ecosystem conservation and restoration. He drafted a detailed set of recommendations on behalf of the thousands of conservation scientists of the Society for Conservation Biology for the 2009 Copenhagen COP of the UNFCCC flagging peer-reviewed studies documenting the need to protect intact forests from excess heat, road building or clear cutting that can lead to forests dying faster than they grow and giving off more greenhouse gases than they sequester in some years. He also coauthored for the Society for Conservation Biology what may have been the first formal testimony before Congress calling for an end to fossil fuel extraction from Federal lands.  In 2010 Fitzgerald led the five-member, multilingual delegation of the Society for Conservation Biology to the CBD COP in Nagoya, Japan.  They worked on the Strategic Plan for 2010-20, marine protection and other issues.

He has drafted several key parts of other U.S. and international environmental, energy and conservation law and defended others.  In recent years Fitzgerald has also co-authored several sets of formal comments opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline, the most recent two with Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s former Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

He has won awards from the American Bar Association, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Endangered Species Coalition, and Northfield-Mount Hermon School, among others.

Watch John Fitzgerald, Raya Salter, and Dan Galpern discuss how to make pledges made at the latest UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Glasgow enforceable law here.

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