Demo­cratic AGs vow law­suits to halt Trump roll­back on cli­mate

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

Demo­cratic at­tor­neys gen­eral ea­ger to de­fend the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cli­mate change poli­cies are vow­ing a flurry of law­suits to stop Pres­i­dent Trump’s reg­u­la­tory roll­back — moves an­a­lysts say face an up­hill le­gal bat­tle and are un­likely to se­cure the same kinds of vic­to­ries Repub­li­cans racked up over the last eight years.

Repub­li­can of­fi­cials dur­ing former Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s two terms, often led by EPA chief and former Ok­la­homa At­tor­ney Gen­eral Scott Pruitt, suc­ceeded in block­ing key en­vi­ron­men­tal ini­tia­tives such as the Clean Power Plan, the Wa­ters of the U.S. rule and other reg­u­la­tions. While they weren’t suc­cess­ful in ev­ery case, Mr. Pruitt and his al­lies often con­vinced fed­eral courts to stay the rules, tem­po­rar­ily putting them on hold un­til the cases could be judged on the mer­its.

Democrats now are em­ploy­ing the re­verse strat­egy: urg­ing courts to stop Mr. Trump and Mr. Pruitt from for­mally un­do­ing many of those rules and other pro­tec­tions put in place by the prior White House.

But there are key dif­fer­ences, ac­cord­ing to spe­cial­ists, be­tween what Repub­li­cans were able to do and what Democrats hope to ac­com­plish in the Trump era.

“If they go through the right pro­ce­dural steps, it’s hard to see how the state at­tor­neys gen­eral, the Democrats, can pre­vail,” said Jeff Holm­stead, an at­tor­ney at Washington’s Bracewell law firm and former EPA as­sis­tant ad­min­is­tra­tor for air and ra­di­a­tion. “They want to show an im­por­tant con­stituency — the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mu­nity — that they’re go­ing af­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion [but] those ar­gu­ments, in most cases, are not go­ing to be legally rel­e­vant.”

In­deed, on the sur­face it seems far eas­ier to chal­lenge the le­gal­ity of a given rule than to suc­cess­fully stop the re­vo­ca­tion of reg­u­la­tions, un­less they’re specif­i­cally man­dated un­der fed­eral laws such as the Clean Air Act. Un­do­ing a rule, Mr. Holm­stead said, hinges on the EPA fol­low­ing all proper pro­ce­dures.

In the case of the Clean Power Plan, for ex­am­ple, the ad­min­is­tra­tion must un­dergo a lengthy rule-mak­ing process that in­cludes draft pro­pos­als, pub­lic com­ments and other steps.

Democrats’ best hope at keep­ing the Clean Power Plan in place would seem to be find­ing er­rors in the EPA’s ad­min­is­tra­tive pro­ce­dure rather than ar­gu­ing it’s il­le­gal to with­draw the plan al­to­gether.

Still, Democrats are in­tent on pur­su­ing their strat­egy. Just this week, New York At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Sch­nei­der­man, along with his coun­ter­parts in Cal­i­for­nia, Mas­sachusetts and other states, filed a law­suit chal­leng­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to de­lay a host of en­ergy ef­fi­ciency stan­dards for com­mer­cial prod­ucts like ceil­ing fans and air con­di­tion­ers.

“En­ergy ef­fi­ciency stan­dards are vi­tal to pub­lic health, our en­vi­ron­ment, and con­sumers. This is yet an­other ex­am­ple of how the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­luter-first en­ergy pol­icy has real and harm­ful im­pacts on the pub­lic health, en­vi­ron­ment — and pock­et­books — of New York­ers,” Mr. Sch­nei­der­man said in a state­ment, ar­gu­ing that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is vi­o­lat­ing the fed­eral En­ergy Pol­icy and Con­ser­va­tion Act by halt­ing the stan­dards.

In­dus­try groups re­jected that ar­gu­ment and said the de­lay­ing of such stan­dards is by no means the ba­sis for a law­suit.

“This law­suit is mostly just putting the ad­min­is­tra­tion on no­tice that they are pay­ing at­ten­tion, and that’s their right. The fact is, th­ese rules will be out in one form or an­other long be­fore this case ever sees the inside of a court­room,” said Stephen Yurek, pres­i­dent & CEO of the Air-Con­di­tion­ing, Heat­ing, and Re­frig­er­a­tion In­sti­tute.

Le­gal ac­tion on other is­sues seems vir­tu­ally cer­tain. Also this week, Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra and oth­ers sent a let­ter to the EPA ob­ject­ing to the agency’s with­drawal of a re­quire­ment that oil and gas com­pa­nies pro­vide de­tailed data on their emis­sions, along with a host of other in­for­ma­tion.

“If Ad­min­is­tra­tor Pruitt thinks the Agency can evade its obligation un­der the Clean Air Act to reg­u­late meth­ane emis­sions from oil and nat­u­ral gas sec­tor op­er­a­tions sim­ply by ceas­ing the col­lec­tion of in­for­ma­tion about their meth­ane pol­lu­tion, he is sorely mis­taken,” Mr. Be­cerra said in a state­ment.

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