Attorneys General File Multiple Lawsuits Against Trump’s Final Environmental Acts 

Former President Donald Trump’s last-minute rollbacks of environmental protections are being challenged.

An interstate coalition of 23 state attorneys general, led by New York’s Letitia A. James, is fighting the Trump administration’s moves on Jan. 19 with multiple lawsuits.

The announcement comes on the heels of a major litigation victory.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (the nation’s second-highest court), decided the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted unlawfully in 2019 when it repealed the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Wheeler (L) shakes hands with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney (R) after Wheeler signed the Affordable Clean Energy final rule at a ceremony at EPA headquarters June 19, 2019 in Washington, DC. The rule replaces emissions regulations on coal fired power plants implemented during the Obama administration. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Multiple states aligned, based on their regional priorities, to file further suits against rules by the Trump administration. California filed nine or more lawsuits, and multiple states joined each action.

For instance, one New York challenge targeted the “Science Transparency Rule” requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to give less weight to suitable scientific data simply because it wasn’t publicly available.

“The 22-member coalition argues that the rule … is contrary to clear congressional mandates to use the best available science and poses a severe threat to the health and safety of the residents of the coalition members,” New York’s James stated in a release. Much of the data the agency uses cannot be released to the public because of personal privacy restrictions, such as personal health records.

According to North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, some additional interstate coalition actions included:

  • A suit against the agency over its new cost-benefit rule that opponents say stacks the odds in favor of polluters. The new rule hurts the agency’s ability to effectively evaluate the health benefits of environmental protections — one of the fundamental ways the it serves Americans.
  • Filing a motion for summary judgment challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of federal Endangered Species Act protections.
  • Challenging two final rules expected to drastically reduce the amount of critical habitat protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
  • Challenging the Trump administration’s final rule attempting to block future regulation of industries responsible for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, including emissions from the oil and gas industry.

California also challenged provisions such as:

  • An Environmental Protection Agency rule that will allow major sources of hazardous air pollutants to reclassify themselves as less regulated “area sources” under the Clean Air Act, abandoning the “once-in, always-in” policy of 25 years.
  • An agency rule maintaining the national standard for ozone at a level that fails to protect public health and welfare based on the existing scientific evidence.
  • An agency rule weakening the Clean Air Act’s new source review program for major modifications to current sources of emissions.
  • A U.S. Department of Energy rule that would weaken federal energy efficiency standards for consumer appliances and industrial equipment — meaning consumers could pay more in energy bills and incur a higher carbon footprint for some appliances and equipment. These might be more familiar in the form of “Energy Guide” stickers seen on appliances including dishwashers, refrigerators, and hot water heaters.

Most — if not all — of Trump’s last-ditch rules may be subject to further scrutiny.

President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s executive memorandum for a 60-day review period could preempt the need for litigation on rules not currently in effect. But some Trump-era environmental rules were effective immediately. The Regulatory Freeze Pending Review allows time to go over “midnight rules” not enacted prior to Jan. 20.

U.S. President Joe Biden signs executive orders as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on during an event at the State Dining Room of the White House January 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“The lawsuits we filed … are on final rules … published before January 20 in the Federal Register and had effective dates before January 20. As a result, those rules are not subject to the regulatory freeze order,” Stein’s office said.

In addition, there is a “look-back” period during which the Congressional Review Act can repeal certain actions taken as far back as Aug. 21, 2020.

The Biden Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis dictates that agencies “immediately review all existing regulations … and agency actions … adopted between Jan. 20, 2017, and Jan. 20, 2021,” which might be in conflict with protecting public health.

Environmental protections and challenges to regulations that may endanger them are ongoing. So is pending litigation by numerous state attorneys general.

(Edited by Fern Siegel and Matthew B. Hall)

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