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States lead "legal resistance" to U.S. environmental, climate rollback - lawyers

by J.D. Capelouto | @jdcapelouto | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 27 September 2017 15:18 GMT

“We are now in many ways ... more of a check on the excesses of this administration than Congress,” says New York attorney general

BOSTON, Sept 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)  – A group of  U.S. state attorneys general say they are now acting as one of the primary checks on efforts by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to weaken environmental protections and back away from action on climate change.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the state officials are now the core of the “legal resistance” to efforts by the U.S. government to overturn environmental protections.

“We are now in many ways - state attorneys general - more of a check on the excesses of this administration than Congress,” Schneiderman said during an event Tuesday. “We are literally filling in for the federal government.”

The attorneys general for New York, Illinois and Maryland said lawsuits filed by the states have effectively obstructed changes made by Trump’s administration.

In June, a coalition of 17 attorneys general announced they were suing over Trump’s blocking of carbon emission standards. August brought another lawsuit, this one over EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s delay of the compliance deadline for new smog emission regulations.

“We’ll continue to sue the bastards,” promised Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.

Trump has called climate change a concept made up by China “in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” and has moved to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement, a hard-fought global deal to curb climate change and deal with its worsening impacts.

Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general, said her office and those in other states had over the last decade played a key role in enacting standards for clean air, holding coal companies to legal emissions levels and pushing for more use of renewable energy.

For example, Illinois has moved from producing just 50 megawatts of energy a year from wind power in 2003 to over 4,000 megawatts now, thanks in part to state encouragement, she said.

“We ultimately are winning,” Madigan said. “As we see the pushback from incumbent industries and other entrenched interests (since the start of the Trump administration), we’re back on the defense,” she said.

“Right now we really have to fight these rollbacks and we have to insist that the laws be followed,” she said.

Frosh, of Maryland, however, was not as optimistic as Madigan about the potential success of state-led legal efforts.

The Trump administration is “absolutely determined to drill every last bit of oil out of the ground, drag every last piece of coal out of every mountain that they can knock down, and … (it) literally rejects science,” he said.

Frosh said he is “not doing the job that I ran for” since Trump’s election, and that of a Republican governor in Maryland, had forced him to change his strategies.

Under Maryland rules, for instance, he cannot sue on behalf of the state without permission from the governor or legislature.

“I’m worried and yet determined,” he said. “I can tell you that my office and my colleagues will continue to fight.”

Schneiderman said he is old enough to remember a time in New York when ash fell from the sky because of garbage fires, and parents would take their children to the doctor if they dipped their foot in a polluted river.

“Never let us go back that way,” he urged.

With federal agencies weakening environmental protections, “it’s going to take a different kind of coalition of innovative leaders” to protect the health of Americans, he said.

That is becoming somewhat easier as public opinion over the threats from climate change and environmental issues has swelled, especially among young people, the officials said.

“Certainly in New York I feel that the overwhelming majority of people are in favor of strong protections of the environment,” Schneiderman said. “There has been real transformation of public consciousness in recent years and these extreme weather incidents confirm it.”

(Reporting by J.D. Capelouto; editing by Laurie Goering ; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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