Full Court Press: How State AGs Guarded Against the Trump Administration's Anti-Regulatory Agenda

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Dur­ing the ear­ly weeks and months of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s term, his administration’s pub­lic mes­sag­ing and per­son­nel deci­sions rein­forced his cam­paign promise to remove a raft of envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­to­ry bar­ri­ers” claimed to be need­less­ly hold­ing back the coal and oil and gas indus­tries. At the top of the agen­da: reverse coal’s decline, pro­tect oil and gas incum­bents from clean ener­gy com­pe­ti­tion, and wipe off the books as many envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions as pos­si­ble.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion got to work quick­ly. New­ly installed polit­i­cal lead­er­ship at the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and the Ener­gy and Inte­ri­or Depart­ments short-cir­cuit­ed ongo­ing rule­mak­ings, moved to delay impend­ing com­pli­ance dead­lines and ignored statu­to­ry direc­tives from Con­gress. Envi­ron­men­tal, cli­mate and clean ener­gy inter­ests faced attacks on all fronts, unchecked by pow­ers in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

State attor­neys gen­er­al — togeth­er with envi­ron­men­tal groups, pub­lic health advo­cates, sci­en­tists, state reg­u­la­tors, activists and an engaged pub­lic — stepped in to fill the vac­u­um and pre­vent the Trump admin­is­tra­tion from freely impos­ing its so-called ener­gy dom­i­nance” agen­da. The result was a string of court deci­sions in 2017 and 2018 that inval­i­dat­ed many of the administration’s ini­tial slap­dash efforts to under­mine and reverse reg­u­la­to­ry pro­tec­tions for our air, water, pub­lic lands and wildlife — expos­ing, along the way, the administration’s dis­re­gard for the rule of law.

After their ear­ly vic­to­ries, state attor­neys gen­er­al and their allies held their ground as the Trump admin­is­tra­tion tried to devel­op and then jus­ti­fy its pol­luter-friend­ly pol­i­cy rever­sals. In its haste to make up for squan­dered time, the admin­is­tra­tion repeat­ed many of the same errors — poor plan­ning, shod­dy legal argu­ments and fudged math — that led to its first wave of court defeats. As the Trump admin­is­tra­tion ends, none of its mar­quee envi­ron­men­tal, cli­mate and ener­gy dereg­u­la­to­ry poli­cies have grown deep roots. The ener­gy dom­i­nance” agen­da is on thin legal ice.

While work­ing tire­less­ly to hold the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to account, state attor­neys gen­er­al simul­ta­ne­ous­ly ramped up efforts to advance their own affir­ma­tive agen­das through oth­er chan­nels. State attor­neys gen­er­al have emerged as indis­pens­able advo­cates on numer­ous fronts, includ­ing cham­pi­oning clean ener­gy, fight­ing for envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and address­ing per- and poly­flu­o­roalkyl sub­stance (PFAS) con­t­a­m­i­na­tion.

This report high­lights a selec­tion of the lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of actions tak­en by state attor­neys gen­er­al to defend against the Trump administration’s anti-reg­u­la­to­ry assault and build a clean­er, health­i­er, more just world for future gen­er­a­tions. We use case exam­ples to illus­trate the tena­cious defen­sive and break-away offen­sive strate­gies employed by state attor­neys gen­er­al over the past four years. When pend­ing chal­lenges move through the courts and the dust set­tles, many of the Trump administration’s oth­er inde­fen­si­ble roll­backs of air qual­i­ty pro­tec­tions, free pass­es to exploit America’s spe­cial lands and waters, ille­git­i­mate reg­u­la­to­ry process­es ground­ed in anti-sci­ence and pro-indus­try bias­es, and oth­er envi­ron­men­tal abom­i­na­tions will also be thwart­ed. These wins will fur­ther con­firm the suc­cess of the Full Court Press” strat­e­gy exe­cut­ed by state attor­neys general.