Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

Washington Post: “Democratic Attorneys General Have Launched 80 Actions Against Trump Environmental Agenda”

March 8, 2018

As published by The Washington Post, on February 28, 2018.

The power of the Democratic Party is at or near an all-time nadir, despite rumblings of a blue-wave election in November. In Washington, the GOP controls the White House and both chambers of Congress. Across the country, Republicans sit in two-thirds of all governors’ mansions.

Democrats, however, are exercising what little clout they possess to fight back against the Trump administration on energy and environmental issues.

Through the first 13 months of the Trump administration, state attorneys general from a slew of mostly blue states took at least 80 legal actions against the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations, according to a report released Tuesday by the State Energy and Environment Impact Center.

“We have even more work to do,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) told reporters Tuesday. “Not only are they not enforcing the laws, they’re actually working at counter purposes.”

The sheer volume of lawsuits, letters and legal briefings shows how Democratic attorneys general have led the charge against President Trump’s deregulatory agendaat a time when the minority party lack the levers of power in Congress needed to issue subpoenas, call hearings or otherwise hold the administration accountable.

Democratic attorneys general have tried to use the court system to stymie the rollback of Obama-era rules meant to curb the emission of climate-warming gases, including carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, methane from onshore oil and natural gas extraction, and hydrofluorocarbons from refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.

For example, the Trump administration has sought to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, finalized in 2015, to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation. The Democratic attorneys general have fought the repeal on the grounds the EPA is required by a 2009 Supreme Court decision to regulate carbon emissions because of their effect on Earth’s climate.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) has been the most aggressive, leading or joining in on 49 legal actions. Healey and Xavier Becerra, California’s Democratic attorney general, were not far behind with 47 legal actions each.

At times, Republican attorneys general joined in briefs to the federal government, such as when Mark Brnovich of Arizona asked the National Park Service to reconsider hiking entrance fees and when Ken Paxton of Texas asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure the recently passed tax cuts benefit customers and not just electric utilities.

The lawyers have enjoyed some victories. In March, the Energy Department dropped its effort to delay implementing new energy-efficiency standards after nine attorneys general challenged the agency in court.

By June, the department had not published final energy-efficiency rules, and they sued again. This month, a federal-district court sided with the attorneys general.

But some of those successes could be short-lived, especially as executive-branch officials gained experience during Trump’s first year in office.

In October, for example, a federal judge ordered the government to enforce an Interior Department rule regulating the leaking of methane — only for the Trump administration to reissue a rule to “temporarily suspend or delay” the old one. States sued again.

In total, 26 states and the District of Columbia have taken some sort of legal action against the Trump administration. The states are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.

The State Energy and Environment Impact Center — housed at New York University and launched in August by David J. Hayes, who served as the Interior Department’s deputy secretary under presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — helps coordinate legal actions among the left-leaning attorneys general.

“State attorneys general are using every tool in their toolbox,” Hayes said in the report. “Indeed, attorneys general possess unique power to stop unlawful actions dead in their tracks at the courthouse.”

During the Obama administration, Republican attorneys general also collaborated on lawsuits against the EPA and other departments. Much of that coordination was done by Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general sued the EPA 14 times.

Now Pruitt heads that agency, which under Trump he has transformed into one of the president’s most powerful deregulatory tools.