While attending Northwestern, Jim Connaughton caught his first glimpse of the struggles that exist among a public and its environment—and the lawmakers meant to protect both. At the time, he was a legal assistant for a Chicago lawyer who represented victims of asbestos exposure. Through this work, he says, "I learned a lot about the challenges of industrial development and the justices and injustices of America's legal and policymaking systems." Connaughton has come a considerable way since his days writing briefs as a legal assistant, but his path is marked by a steady commitment to formulating and instituting environmental standards.
Now chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Connaughton has played a key role in many restoration and conservation policies. He serves as President George W. Bush's top advisor on environmental and natural resource management issues, along with heading the White House Office of Environmental Policy, the primary group devising and implementing environmental policy. Since his Senate confirmation in June 2001, Connaughton has coordinated initiatives such as the national clean air strategy, healthy forests legislation, a national ocean action plan, regulations to curb overfishing, and the accelerated clean-up of abandoned industrial zones. He has helped negotiate clean energy policies within the G-8 and has organized the modernization of technology in sectors across the federal government.
Under his direction, Papahanaumakuakea Marine National Monument, the largest conservation area in the United States, was established. The 140,000 square-mile region in the central Pacific Ocean is home to thousands of marine species, many of which are unique to those waters. The presidential proclamation that created this monument in June 2006 was the largest single conservation act in history.
Before joining the Bush administration, Connaughton was a partner at Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, an environmental practice group that develops international environmental standards and compliance systems to implement them.
The White House advisor is a trustee of the Morris K. Udall Foundation, an organization committed to educating young leaders in environmental public policy. As well, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan foreign policy organization seeking to enhance the American public's understanding of foreign policy. He returned to campus in 2005 as a guest lecturer in the law school's Federalist Society and Environmental Law Society student organizations.
He and his wife Susanna Bolten Connaughton (KSM88) have two children, Spencer and Grace, and live in Washington, D.C.