Democratic state AGs vow to battle Trump admin rollbacks

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2017

Democratic attorneys general yesterday vowed to keep aggressively fighting the Trump administration’s rollbacks of environmental regulations, as well as seek opportunities for cooperation with their colleagues in Republican states.

Jan. 21 was a “galvanizing moment among state AGs,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at an event meant to commemorate the formation of a new center to help state attorneys general litigate environmental issues in the Trump era.

The top lawyers from Democratic states have already been a thorn in the Trump administration’s side as it pursues its deregulatory agenda. State attorneys general have jumped into litigation over the administration’s plans to roll back methane regulations and chemical safety rules, as well as sought to defend the Obama administration’s top environmental priorities in court (Greenwire, March 1).

“I’m worried and yet determined,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “We’ll continue to sue the bastards.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined Schneiderman and Frosh at the event at New York University’s School of Law.

All three are part of the new State Energy and Environmental Impact Center launched by the law school last month. The initiative aims to offer legal, analytical and communications tools to boost coordination among state officials (Greenwire, Aug. 17).

It’s funded by a nearly $6 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity of former New York mayor and billionaire environmentalist Michael Bloomberg. David Hayes, who served as deputy secretary and chief operating officer at the Interior Department during the Clinton and Obama administrations, is the center’s first executive director.

“State AGs are fighting not just for the environmental values we all cherish, but for application of the rule of law,” Hayes said yesterday.

Frosh, who serves under a Republican administration, said state lawyers in general have had “an authority problem and a resource problem.” He pointed to his experiences in his state, where he said it’s been difficult to pull people from the Maryland Department of the Environment from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s priorities to his own enforcement and litigation goals.

He cheered the February decision by the state’s Democratic-led General Assembly to give the attorney general blanket authority to sue the federal government. The prior law required the attorney general to obtain approval from the Legislature or governor.

Schneiderman predicted the Trump administration would coincide with “the emergence of a new kind of progressive federalism in the United States.” The era would be defined as one “where the collapse of agencies of the federal government and unwillingness of Congress to stay the excesses of an administration resulted in more of a burden and more of a challenge being imposed on state actors.”

Madigan, who has been attorney general of Illinois since 2003, said attorneys general opposed to the Trump administration should take comfort from the lessons of the Bush administration, when states successfully sued over the government’s obligation to address greenhouse gas emissions.

“I have been where we find ourselves today before,” she said. “I have seen some of the trends, I have seen that in spite of being on the defensive, we can also achieve tremendous success.”

The new center at NYU’s law school aims to provide help for state attorneys general “regardless of political party,” but so far the initiative has attracted support only from Democratic officials.

Madigan urged attorneys general to find issues of common ground, such as restoring the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. The White House’s budget proposal to zero out funding for a Great Lakes restoration initiative spurned bipartisan opposition, for example.

“We have been able to come together around those issues pertaining to the Great Lakes,” Madigan said. “So that is a good way for us to try and find some common ground and work to persuade them about the importance not just about that specific issue but applying that lens to the greater issue of environmental protection.”