22 states sue over EPA rollback of clean energy
A coalition of 22 states and seven cities on Tuesday sued to block the Trump administration from easing restrictions on coal-burning power plants, setting up a case that could determine how much leverage the federal government has to fight climate change in the future.
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in a long-running battle over the future of coal and how to regulate the nation’s heavily polluting power plants, which are major producers of greenhouse gases that warm the planet. It also is the most significant test to date of the Trump administration’s efforts to eliminate or weaken former President Barack Obama’s regulations to reduce the United States’ contribution to global warming.
It is a case that could go all the way to the Supreme
Court. If justices there were to ultimately decide in favor of the Trump administration, it could weaken the ability of future presidents to regulate carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, experts said, and make it harder for the United States to tackle climate change.
“It would have a devastating effect on the ability of future administrations to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act,” said Richard L. Revesz, a professor at New York University who specializes in environmental law, referring to a 1970 law that requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate hazardous air pollutants.
The court challenge, led by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, argued that the Trump administration’s EPA had no basis for weakening an Obama-era regulation that set the first-ever national limits on carbon dioxide pol
lution from power plants.
The Obama-era rule, the Clean Power Plan, required states to implement plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2022, and encouraged that to happen by closing heavily polluting plants and instead generating electricity using natural gas or renewable energy. Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is a major contributor to global warming because it traps the sun’s heat.
“The science is indisputable. Our climate is changing. Ice caps are melting,” James said in a statement. She called the Trump administration plan a “do-nothing rule.”
The battle lines around this lawsuit generally mirror previous litigation over the Clean Power Plan, with blue states and cities (along with environmental and public health groups) on one side, and business groups and the fossil fuel industry on the other.
Others joining the suit include Massachusetts, Colorado, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota,
New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. The cities involved are Boulder, Colorado, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, South Miami and Philadelphia.
Previously, Republicanled states and industry groups sued to stop Obama’s Clean Power Plan from going into effect. They won a reprieve in 2016 when the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Obama administration from imposing changes.
Patrick Morrisey, the attorney general of West Virginia who helped to lead the Republican lawsuit against the Obama rules, predicted failure for the lawsuit against the Trump plan. He argued in a statement that neither the
Clean Air Act nor the Constitution “allow the EPA to serve as a central energy planning authority.”
The new challenge, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, argues that the Trump administration’s replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule, ignores the EPA’s responsibility under the law to set limits on greenhouse gases.