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.