State Attorneys General: Allies in the fight against climate change

Attorneys general climate

State Attorneys General: Allies in the fight against climate change

By David J. Hayes, executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law

Despite widespread evidence of mounting impacts from climate change, the executive branch of the federal government has been watering down — or outright repealing — rules that are critical to the health and welfare of all Americans and the planet. At a time when the legislative branch, Congress, seems increasingly willing to act on climate change, it’s discouraging for the executive branch to be out of step. Left unanswered, these actions will set us back years at a time when scientists tell us that we have no time to lose in the fight against climate change.

Attorneys General

David Hayes

As their states’ chief law enforcement officers, state attorneys general have a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of their constituents, economies, and natural resources from climate change. The Trump administration’s rollbacks will lock our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions into an upward trajectory, increasing the devastation wrought by wildfires, droughts, rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, and other hazards. In the face of this abdication of responsibility, it has fallen to state attorneys general to defend their states — as well as the nation — against climate change.  

To date, state attorneys general have been remarkably successful in fighting many federal efforts to roll back important clean energy, climate change and environmental protections. In less than three years, state attorneys general have taken more than 250 actions in this arena — providing a voice for their states’ residents in federal regulatory processes, fighting back against harmful rollbacks in the courts, and speaking up against the Trump administration’s efforts to fiscally gut vital environmental and conservation programs.

And the stakes in these fights are enormous. A report that we released earlier this year found that the administration’s current efforts to roll back six key Clean Air Act regulations will lead to more than 200 million extra metric tons of greenhouse gasses emissions annually by 2025. Emissions of other harmful pollutants would increase too — leading to additional premature deaths, hundreds of thousands more asthma attacks, and countless additional missed school- and workdays. State AGs are on the front lines fighting to protect the public and the planet from these rollbacks.

State AGs also play a major role in clearing the path for clean energy in the electricity sector. Our latest report shows how state AGs are utilizing federal and state energy law principles across different forums to ensure that clean energy innovators have expanded opportunities to participate fully and fairly in electricity markets.

As CCL members continue to advocate for climate action in Congress, they have an ally in state attorneys general who have made climate change a priority and are standing up for our shared values and our collective future. 

I encourage you to visit the State Impact Center’s website and explore our Attorney General Actions database to learn more about how your state AG is taking action on climate change. While you’re there, you can stay in the loop by signing up for our biweekly newsletter, Legally Speaking, and following us on Twitter at @StateImpactCntr.

David J. Hayes is the executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law. He previously served as the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer at the Department of the Interior during the Clinton and Obama Administrations. 

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