Dem AGs join front lines of Trump opposition

Dem AGs join front lines of Trump opposition
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Democratic state attorneys general are taking a leading role in fighting the Trump administration’s environmental policies. 

Top legal officers from blue states, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have gone to court to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan. They’re also fighting the Energy Department’s delay of energy efficiency standards. 

“We anticipate being significantly involved because President Trump has made clear his intention to roll back the Clean Power Plan and to increase the carbon footprint here in America,” said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. 


“I feel very much in the mainstream here,” Jepsen added. “But I stress that these issues, while they might have their locus on the environment, have an economic impact as well, in addition to public health.”

Schneiderman, Jepsen and 15 other state attorneys general and the top legal officers from a handful of localities have sought this month to prevent the Trump administration from halting a court case against the Clean Power Plan while the EPA reviews the policy.

The Clean Power Plan requires the power plant sector to curb its carbon emissions. 

The state attorneys plan to keep fighting to preserve the plan, including if Trump seeks to repeal it through a new regulation. 

Meanwhile, a legal coalition that includes nine of the attorneys general sued the Energy Department over its delay of six energy efficiency rules covering appliances like ceiling fans and commercial boilers. 

Democratic attorneys general have lined up against Trump on other issues as well. Washington’s Bob Ferguson and Hawaii’s Doug Chin, for example, have notched wins against Trump’s executive order banning travel to the United States from several countries. That policy remains in legal limbo. 


State attorneys general have long used their power to shape federal policy, and their involvement in a case can have a significant impact, often giving litigants legal standing to challenge the government. 

“From a legal perspective, it’s really helpful for a state to be on the case,” said Mark Templeton, head of the environmental law clinic at the University of Chicago’s law school, and a former environmental regulator in Missouri. 

“There are specific and useful state interests in these national policies.”

But Peter Glaser, an environmental attorney at Troutman Sanders who works for industry clients, said he doesn’t think the involvement of Democratic attorneys general will necessarily sway the courts.

“These states have been in these cases for a long time, and their arguments tend to be virtually identical to the environmentalists,” said Glaser, who represents the National Mining Association in the Clean Power Plan lawsuit.

“I think the fact that it’s coming from states might add something additional optically … but in the end, it’s similar arguments, and courts will make up their minds based on how they see the facts and the law.”

Aside from notching policy victories, the court battles generate headlines and attention, often giving attorneys general a springboard to higher offices like governor or senator. 

“The beauty from a political perspective is that it’s both great policy and great politics,” said Colm O’Comartun, a principal at state policy strategy firm 50 State and a former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. 

“This is one that is very effective with their base, is consistent with what Democrats think Democratic elected representatives should be doing — which is promoting health and safety — and is a great way to come together as a group and have a louder voice.” 

Environmental protection is a winning issue with the Democratic base, so being involved is “an amazing place to be,” he said.

Numerous attorneys general from both parties have gone on to higher office, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R), and even Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, who sued the Obama administration more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s attorney general.

James Tierney, who fought the Reagan administration on acid rain prevention as Maine’s Democratic attorney general, said the legal fights have grown more partisan over the years. 

“It used to be we did this all on a bipartisan basis,” he said.

“I was a Democrat, but the Vermont AG [John Easton] was a Republican, and we frankly didn’t notice much whether somebody was a Democrat or Republican, we just went in and did it.”