Attorney General James Challenges Trump Administration’s Last-Ditch Efforts to Harm the Environment

AG James Files Package of Five Lawsuits to Stop Attempts to Undermine Science,
Hinder Progress on Clean Air and Energy Conservation, Eliminate Wildlife Protections

With More than 230 Actions to Date, New York is Leader in State Attorney
General Actions Against Trump Administration’s Harmful Environmental Policies 

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today led several coalitions of states from across the country in filing five lawsuits challenging rollback regulations issued by the outgoing Trump Administration. The last-minute regulations — also called “midnight” regulations — include some of the Administration’s most harmful to-date. The rollbacks seek to hamstring the ability to use the best available science and sound economics in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision-making; stall progress in ensuing public access to clean, healthy air; and threaten New York’s $4.2 billion birdwatching and wildlife watching industry by removing critical protections for migratory birds. There is also a regulation that will add costs to consumers and businesses by eroding national energy efficiency standards. 

“These ‘midnight’ regulations are the last gasp of an administration more devoted to providing handouts to big corporations than protecting Americans’ health and the environment,” said Attorney General James. “Over the past four years, the Trump Administration has relentlessly, recklessly, and illegally bent to the will of polluters by attempting to gut critical safeguards on which individuals, families, and communities in New York and across the country depend on. Although this administration is coming to an end, immediate action must be taken now in order to stop and repair the immense damage that’s been done. I will continue to work with states, counties, and cities across the country to overturn these final shameful chapters of the Trump Administration and protect our environment for good.”

The five regulations being challenged by Attorney General James and her coalitions are:

  1. The so-called “Science Transparency Rule,” a regulation which has been universally condemned by the scientific community that hamstrings the ability of EPA to protect public health and the environment. The final rule requires EPA to give less weight to scientific studies, models, or other information in its decision-making on the sole, non-scientific basis that the underlying data are not publicly available. This requirement could undermine the use of important studies that EPA relies on because their underlying data cannot be made publicly available due to personal privacy restrictions. The 22-member coalition argues that the rule — which exceeds EPA’s legal authority and would only decrease transparency of EPA decision-making — 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.

    Joining Attorney General James in filing this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, and the attorneys of King County (Washington), and the cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. 

  2. A U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) rule that narrows the scope of protections for migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by eliminating liability of the oil and gas industry and others for killing birds, as a result of oil spills, electrocution, and poisoning, among other thingsThe final rule expressly codifies an interpretation of MBTA by Trump’s DOI that a coalition of eight state attorneys general, led by New York, successfully challenged in a previous, related lawsuit. In its decision, the court found that DOI’s interpretation prohibiting it and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from exercising their long-standing and consistently-applied authority to enforce MBTA against industrial or other human activities was “simply an unpersuasive interpretation of MBTA’s unambiguous prohibition on killing migratory birds.” Today, a coalition of 12 states contends that the final rule is equally invalid due to its direct conflict with MBTA’s purpose of protecting migratory bird populations, and its inconsistency with current legislation that reaffirms MBTA’s longstanding ban on the capture and killing of over 300 species of migratory birds. New York is home to more than 300 species of migratory birds, and this final rule threatens this precious wildlife, and will harm New York’s 4.1 million birdwatchers and $4.2 billion birdwatching and wildlife watching industry.

    Joining Attorney General James in filing today’s lawsuit in the U.S. District for the Southern District of New York are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

  3. EPA’s decision not to strengthen national ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone commonly referred to as smog — despite ample new data and scientific research demonstrating the need for more protective standards. EPA’s decision to not strengthen key ozone standards violates its obligation under the Clean Air Act to adequately protect the health and welfare of the public. Smog is a serious and persistent public health problem in the U.S., especially in New York, where more than two-thirds of the public regularly breathes air that is polluted with smog. The 17-member coalition challenging the rule argue that EPA ignored substantial evidence of ozone’s harms at levels below the current standards and failed to analyze the impact of retaining these standards on high-risk populations, including low-income individuals and communities of color. The coalition further contends that EPA’s process of reviewing the current smog standards was rushed and flawed, including EPA’s failure to convene an ozone-specific expert panel to aid the review and disqualifying certain important experts from its scientific advisory committee — leading to a committee packed with industry-friendly members. As a result of the rule’s serious procedural and substantive flaws, it fails its fundamental purpose to adequately protect public health and welfare, in violation of the Clean Air Act.

    Joining Attorney General James in filing this lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, and the attorney of the City of New York.

  4. Amendments to the interim waiver process for test procedures under the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) energy efficiency program that undercut standards for consumer products and commercial/industrial equipment. DOE’s energy efficiency rule would effectively allow any manufacturer to sell products that fail to meet national energy efficiency standards. As a result, consumers and businesses would be saddled with increased costs associated with energy inefficient products that do not meet DOE’s energy efficiency standards. DOE created the rule despite its own findings, which concluded that national energy efficiency standards completed through 2016 would save more energy through 2030 than the entire nation uses in one year, and save consumers $2 trillion in the same time frame. The 16-member coalition argues that the proposed rule exceeds DOE’s statutory authority, is arbitrary and capricious, and is otherwise contrary with the law.

    Joining Attorney General James in the filing the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and the attorney of the City of New York. 

  5. EPA’s final Clean Air cost-benefit rule which, under the guise of “increasing transparency,” negatively overhauls how the agency values environmental and public health protections. In particular, the rule would undercount the harmful effects of carbon emissions that lead to climate change and distort the value of co-benefits, the often-substantial benefits of a standard that addresses more than one pollutant. The 19-member coalition charges that, among other technical and legal flaws of the rule, this biased approach is contrary to EPA’s core mission to protect human health and the environment, as well as to fundamental economic precepts and the legal requirement that EPA base its standards on the best available information.

    Joining Attorney General James in filing this lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, and the attorney of the City of New York. 

Attorney General James has also joined a number of lawsuits being led by other attorneys general against the Trump Administration’s “midnight” regulations, including those that roll back controls on climate change pollution from power plants, eliminate critical protections for endangered and threatened species, weaken federal energy efficiency standards for common household appliances, and maintain clean air standards for soot pollution that inadequately protect public health.

According to the New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, since 2017, the Office of the New York Attorney General (OAG) has been a leader in taking legal actions against federal agencies on issues related to the environment. Since President Trump took office, the OAG has, to-date, taken over 230 significant regulatory and legal actions — and over 70 actions in 2020 alone — in opposition to the administration’s concerted, across-the-board drive to undermine many of our nation’s bedrock health, safety, and environmental laws.

These matters are being handled for the OAG by Assistant Attorneys General Matthew Eisenson, Andrew G. Frank,  Lisa S. Kwong, Gavin G. McCabe, and Claiborne E. Walthall; Volunteer Assistant Attorney General Molly Parlin; Special Assistant Attorney General Ashley Gregor; Environmental Scientist Linda M. Wilson; Chief Scientist Jodi Feld; Policy Advisor Peter C. Washburn; Senior Counsel Timothy Hoffman; Senior Counsel for Enforcement Andrew J. Gershon; Senior Counsel for Air Pollution and Climate Change Litigation Michael J. Myers; and Deputy Bureau Chief Monica Wagner of the Environmental Protection Bureau — all under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Matthew Colangelo. The Environmental Protection Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, and is overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.