State AGs Lead Pushback on Trump Climate Policies

Report: States have taken 300 actions to bolster environmental regulations since Donald Trump became president.

by | Dec 19, 2019

State attorneys general have taken 300 actions on climate, air, water and toxic chemicals since Donald Trump became president, according to a new report.

The strongly worded report says the Trump administration has “engaged in a concerted, across-the-board attempt to weaken many of our nation’s bedrock health, safety and environmental laws” and states have been instrumental in challenging this roll-back. The report was published on Monday by the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, which has been supporting AG actions across the country.

The report notes that within the past few months alone, states have filed court actions challenging the legality of the Trump administration’s replacement of the Clean Power Plan and its revocation of the California emissions waiver, and objecting to Environmental Protection Agency proposals regarding methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Maryland, California and Massachusetts have been most active in cases directly related to climate change, while New York state leads on issues involving clean energy and energy efficiency.

“State attorneys general have mounted multiple administrative and judicial challenges to the administration’s attempts to avoid required reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” the report writes. “These battles are reaching a crescendo as the administration moves forward with replacement plans that will materially increase, rather than reduce, GHG emissions.” 

David Hayes, executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, told Climate Liability News that while attorneys general have tackled other issues like immigration policy, but “you can see from our report the volume of activity is enormous and some of the larger states have really taken on a very heavy burden.”

Hayes noted that because primary responsibility for environmental protection traditionally lies with the state and attorneys generals are “enormously credible litigants,” they are “particularly well suited carriers of the message that the roll-back is illegal, is harmful and can’t proceed.” 

And he expects this action to continue. “It’s taken three years for the Trump administration to get to the point where they have put on the table replacement tools for the major climate rollbacks that they’re trying to put in place. So that litigation is now beginning and the next year or two will be very intense in this area.”

Speaking at an event celebrating state environmental action against the Trump administration during international climate talks in Madrid (COP25), New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said his office had “unique tools” and an “important role to play” in establishing the state’s environmental agenda.

“We have probably filed 30 actions since I became attorney general [in January 2018] and the majority we’re prevailing in. The reason we’re prevailing is because the administration is rather reckless and arbitrary in how its acting.”

The event was held by the U.S. Climate Action Center, a coalition of cities, states, tribes, businesses, faith groups, universities, and others set up to maintain a U.S. presence at major international climate events. 

Grewal said his role was especially important in a climate change context. He noted that New Jersey had successfully stood up in court against companies trying to build gas pipelines through the state and had joined several lawsuits to protect rules instituted by the Obama administration, including on power plants, methane emissions and the ability of states to regulate fuel efficiency.

Hayes said the COP25 climate talks should serve as a “reminder and a reinforcement to the states to carry on and to recognize that they’re on the right side of history here.” 

Alongside the report, the Center is launching a searchable database of attorney general actions.

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Isabella Kaminski
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Isabella Kaminski is a freelance journalist specializing in climate justice, environmental law, and policy.