Climate & Health Showdown in the Courts

Smoke billowing out of a smokestack at a power plant into an ominous-looking sky

Exec­u­tive Summary

This year, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has set its sights on water­ing down or out­right repeal­ing a half-dozen health and envi­ron­men­tal rules crit­i­cal to the health and wel­fare of all Amer­i­cans as well as the plan­et. The scope of the administration’s effort to tear down these vital, core pro­tec­tions that cut across the most sig­nif­i­cant sources of pol­lu­tion in our nation is breath­tak­ing. To date, state attor­neys gen­er­al have been remark­ably suc­cess­ful in fight­ing many of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back impor­tant clean ener­gy, cli­mate change and envi­ron­men­tal protections.

State attor­neys gen­er­al are now prepar­ing, how­ev­er, for anoth­er, even more crit­i­cal bat­tle with the admin­is­tra­tion over cli­mate and health risks from sev­er­al of the nation’s largest emit­ting sec­tors: coal, cars, oil and gas, and land­fills. While the Trump admin­is­tra­tion had con­sis­tent­ly attacked envi­ron­men­tal and clean ener­gy ini­tia­tives, these spe­cif­ic actions bring the sweep­ing scope of its efforts into per­spec­tive. This report focus­es on the fol­low­ing key areas:

  • Coal Indus­try: Clean Pow­er Plan (CO2)
  • Auto­mo­tive Indus­try: Clean Car Stan­dards (CO2)
  • Auto­mo­tive Indus­try: Glid­er Truck Pol­lu­tion (CO2)
  • Oil & Gas Indus­try: Methane emis­sions (new and exist­ing sources)
  • Oil & Gas Indus­try: Methane emis­sions (pub­lic lands)
  • Land­fills: Methane emissions

These six rules pro­vide the largest and best near-term oppor­tu­ni­ties to reduce cli­mate pol­lu­tion from the high­est con­trib­u­tors to green­house gas emis­sions: the pow­er sec­tor (coal-fired elec­tric gen­er­a­tion); the trans­porta­tion sec­tor (cars and light trucks); the oil and gas sec­tor; and the waste sec­tor (land­fills). Togeth­er, these four sec­tors account for over 3,000 mil­lion met­ric tons (MMT) of car­bon diox­ide equiv­a­lent (CO2e) emis­sions in the Unit­ed States each year — near­ly half of green­house gas emis­sions from all U.S. activ­i­ties. The chart below shows the per­cent­age of total U.S. green­house gas emis­sions attrib­ut­able to car­bon diox­ide (CO2), methane (CH4), and oth­er green­house gas­es (GHGs). It also illus­trates (in the dark shad­ing, on the right side of the pie chart) the large pro­por­tion of those total green­house gas­es that are tied to the sources and sec­tors high­light­ed in this report — and tar­get­ed for roll­back by the Trump administration.

Com­bined, these sources and sec­tors are core dri­vers of U.S. con­tri­bu­tions to glob­al cli­mate change and, because of the legal oblig­a­tion to reduce their emis­sions, they pro­vide the most impor­tant near-term oppor­tu­ni­ty to reduce green­house gas emis­sions and fight against cli­mate change. And yet the admin­is­tra­tion is doing the oppo­site, caus­ing great harm to pub­lic health and the envi­ron­ment, as recent­ly laid out in the Fourth Nation­al Cli­mate Assess­ment and high­light­ed through­out this report. In short, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is prepar­ing to take us over the cli­mate cliff.

Data is based on 2025 esti­mates when avail­able. In the case of New Sources Oil & Gas, data is based on 2018 esti­mat­ed reduc­tions. Clean Cars esti­mates are based on an 80-year aver­age. Sources: EPA 2018 ACE RIA; NHT­SA 2018 SAFE Vehi­cles Rule Draft EIS; EPA 2018 Methane RIA; ICF Methane Study; Draft GHG Inven­to­ry; BLM 2018 Methane RIA; EPA 2016 Land­fills RIA.

The Trump administration’s actions amount to a vir­tu­al sur­ren­der to cli­mate change, allow­ing more than 200 MMT of CO2 Eq. to be emit­ted annu­al­ly by 2025, as illus­trat­ed in Fig­ure 2. At the same time, these actions bring with them increased lev­els of con­ven­tion­al pol­lu­tants. The report lays out below, on a rule-by-rule basis, the seri­ous health harms asso­ci­at­ed with the rules’ increased lev­els of such pol­lu­tants in these four major indus­tri­al sec­tors, includ­ing thou­sands more pre­ma­ture deaths, hun­dreds of thou­sands more asth­ma attacks, and count­less addi­tion­al missed school and work days. The report uses, in part, analy­sis com­plet­ed by the pri­or admin­is­tra­tion to pro­vide a sense of the mag­ni­tude of the asso­ci­at­ed eco­nom­ic and health-relat­ed costs. For example:

  • Replac­ing the Oba­ma-era Clean Pow­er Plan with Trump’s mis­named Afford­able Clean Ener­gy plan would gen­er­ate an increase in par­tic­u­late mat­ter (PM), sul­fur diox­ide (SO2) and nitro­gen oxides (NOx) that, by 2030, could annu­al­ly cause severe health effects on major por­tions of the pop­u­la­tion (par­tic­u­lar­ly chil­dren, the elder­ly and oth­er vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions), includ­ing 1,630 more inci­dences of pre­ma­ture deaths, 120,000 addi­tion­al asth­ma attacks, and 140,000 missed school days and 48,000 lost
    work days.
  • By not address­ing methane leak­age from both new and exist­ing oil and gas oper­a­tions, the tox­ic soup released dur­ing oil and gas oper­a­tions — includ­ing methane, volatile organ­ic com­pounds (VOCs) and haz­ardous pol­lu­tants such as ben­zene — will gen­er­ate dan­ger­ous, local­ized pol­lu­tion that will annu­al­ly cause 1,900 pre­ma­ture deaths, 1.1 mil­lion asth­ma attacks, and 3,600 emer­gency room vis­its by 2030.8
  • Rein­stat­ing a loop­hole to allow the sale of so-called glid­er trucks” with non-com­pli­ant, old­er, refur­bished engines would, by itself, put an esti­mat­ed 120,000 non-com­pli­ant medi­um and heavy-duty trucks on the road by 2025, emit­ting near­ly 300,000 tons of NOx and near­ly 8,000 tons of PM annu­al­ly, caus­ing 9,000 to 21,000 pre­ma­ture deaths and untold num­bers of asth­ma attacks, emer­gency vis­its and lost work days every year.

Mon­e­ti­za­tion of the sub­stan­tial for­gone ben­e­fits asso­ci­at­ed with reduc­ing green­house gas emis­sions fur­ther illus­trates the severe harm that will result from the Trump administration’s attempt to walk away from its legal and moral oblig­a­tions to reduce green­house gas emis­sions.

The adverse impacts asso­ci­at­ed with the Trump administration’s all-out assault on green­house gas emis­sions reduc­tions also under­cut steps that many juris­dic­tions have tak­en to mit­i­gate the impacts of cli­mate change by, for exam­ple, chang­ing their ener­gy mix to favor increased use of clean, renew­able ener­gy. These poli­cies have suc­ceed­ed in help­ing a large num­ber of states low­er emis­sions from the very indus­tri­al sec­tors that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion now wants to let off the hook. State and local ini­tia­tives have proven that emis­sions reduc­tions can move for­ward in tan­dem with con­tin­ued strong eco­nom­ic growth, while pro­vid­ing increased pro­tec­tion for vul­ner­a­ble low-income and minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties from unhealthy pol­lu­tion.

State attor­neys gen­er­al will con­tin­ue to fight vig­or­ous­ly against the Trump administration’s attempts to replace exist­ing rules that require green­house gas emis­sions reduc­tions with new rules that unlaw­ful­ly and harm­ful­ly negate those reduc­tions. As laid out in this report, attor­neys gen­er­al have been active­ly engaged in the six rule­mak­ings and the four key sec­tors high­light­ed in this report. With the full scope of the assault on green­house gas emis­sions now com­ing into clear view, state attor­neys gen­er­al will be fight­ing even hard­er to pro­tect their states’ and con­stituents’ inter­ests in reduc­ing harm­ful pol­lu­tion and fight­ing cli­mate change. The coop­er­a­tive fed­er­al­ism mod­el that serves as the basis of envi­ron­men­tal law and reg­u­la­tion in the Unit­ed States, how­ev­er, means that the states should not have to take on this task alone, nor should they be hin­dered by a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment unwill­ing to con­front the real­i­ty of cli­mate change.