Bending Toward Justice: New report chronicles efforts of Democratic attorneys general in Trump era

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The attorneys general of California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York lead the way in combatting Trump era environmental, climate, and clean energy policies.

Just as Republican attorneys general fought President Obama in court over the Affordable Care Act, workers’ rights, and immigration, Democratic attorneys general have turned their sights on President Trump. According to a new report from the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, Democratic attorneys general are making headway in slowing down Trump’s attack on the environmental, climate, and clean energy.

The State Energy and Environmental Impact Center is a non-partisan organization housed at New York University Law School. It was created in the wake of Trump’s election to support attorneys general pursuing progressive energy, environmental and climate policies. The Center works to build coalitions among states’ top law enforcement officers and provides direct legal assistance to those attorneys general pursuing litigation, legislation, and rulemaking in the environment and clean energy arena.

To date, attorneys general have filed or intervened in 27 lawsuits and pursued 46 regulatory and policy actions directly related to harmful Trump administration policies, on topics as diverse as from fossil-fuel emissions, auto emission standards, offshore drilling, clean water, pesticides and other toxics, chemical spills, energy efficiency, fracking on public lands, and scientific integrity.

Often, litigation and rulemaking go hand-in-hand. For example, a lawsuit can successfully keep the Environmental Protection Agency from rescinding an environmentally-protective rule implemented by the Obama administration, after which attorneys general file extensive public comments about the EPA’s proposed changes in approach.

This approach has worked to keep EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt from demolishing the Clean Power Plan implemented by the Obama EPA in 2015. The Clean Power Plan adopted a state-based approach to restricting carbon emissions from fossil-fueled power plants. When Pruitt was Oklahoma’s attorney general, he sued to stop the Clean Power Plan from moving forward. When he took over the EPA, several Democratic AGs intervened in the lawsuit to keep the Clean Power Plan alive.

The litigation is still pending, keeping the Clean Power Plan still in place. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra have threatened further litigation if EPA proposes rules to weaken the Plan.

Becerra secured a victory on Monday when a federal district court in San Francisco ordered the EPA to designate areas of the country with unhealthy levels of smog.

As we’ve previously reported, Schneiderman has also taken the lead in suing the EPA seeking to limit ozone pollution and to broaden the definition of bodies of water covered by the Clean Water Act.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is leading a coalition of attorneys general who oppose the Trump Administration’s plans to open up 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas exploration and development. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is pursuing a statewide plan for electric vehicles and ambitious goals to serve electricity needs with clean power.

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have been involved in at least one of the 27 lawsuits or 46 regulatory actions catalogued in the report. The states are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas,Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Litigation can take years to play out. And unlike the lawsuits the attorneys general have pursued on immigration and reproductive rights, the legal fights over the Trump administration’s environmental and energy policies have not resulted in nationwide injunctions to keep Obama policies in place.

But that doesn’t mean the Democratic attorneys general are slowing down one bit. Commenting on the report’s release, Healey told The Hill:

“They’re [the Trump administration] not interested in facts. They’re not interested in data. And I think as lawyers, we make our cases based on the law, and based on the facts. And that’s why we’re going to continue to fight these fights, and I think that’s why we’re going to continue to be successful … when that’s lacking.”

Maryland AG Frosh echoed Healey’s comments. He told the Hill that the Trump administration “doesn’t respect the rule of law, they don’t believe in science, and most important, they don’t believe they have a duty to stewardship over natural resources and public lands. And that has resulted in series of actions that are flat-out illegal.”

The Center for Energy and Environmental Impact is led by David J. Hayes, who served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department in the Clinton and Obama administrations. It is funded in large part by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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