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State AGs Must Win the Fight on Cars and Coal

cars on a highway

I made the point in a recent Slate op-ed that despite all the hype, the Trump Administration’s dereg­u­la­to­ry” push remains at the start­ing gate. After try­ing for two years to avoid its legal oblig­a­tion to imple­ment exist­ing envi­ron­men­tal rules, the Admin­is­tra­tion final­ly is piv­ot­ing and putting out pro­posed replace­ment rules for comment. 

In fil­ings sub­mit­ted by state attor­neys gen­er­al over the last cou­ple of weeks, we are now see­ing how high the stakes are in this fight. 

At issue are arguably the two most con­se­quen­tial envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions put in place by the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion: The Clean Car Stan­dards, under which the auto indus­try agreed to steadi­ly improve fuel effi­cien­cy stan­dards through 2026; and the Clean Pow­er Plan, which called on the coal indus­try, work­ing with flex­i­ble tools giv­en to state author­i­ties, to reduce harm­ful car­bon emissions. 

As the State Impact Cen­ter has high­light­ed, coali­tions of 21 State AGs and 19 State AGs filed com­ments on Octo­ber 26 and Octo­ber 31, respec­tive­ly, regard­ing the pro­posed replace­ments to those rules. As laid out in those exten­sive com­ments, each of the pro­pos­als suf­fers from mul­ti­ple fac­tu­al, ana­lyt­i­cal and legal errors that make them extreme­ly vul­ner­a­ble to judi­cial review. 

While the rules each deserve seri­ous atten­tion, the com­bined impact of the Trump pro­pos­als is par­tic­u­lar­ly strik­ing. In terms of cli­mate change, for exam­ple, the trans­porta­tion sec­tor and coal sec­tors togeth­er are the largest sources of destruc­tive green­house gas­es in our entire econ­o­my. By killing off the Clean Car Stan­dards and the Clean Pow­er Plan, the Admin­is­tra­tion is aban­don­ing any pre­tense of com­bat­ing cli­mate change and try­ing to blunt its destruc­tive impacts. Instead of reduc­ing emis­sions, the replace­ment rules would give the most seri­ous cli­mate pol­luters a pass, with the roll­back of nation­al Clean Car Stan­dards increas­ing emis­sions by an esti­mat­ed 8 bil­lion tons of CO2 by 2026, and the roll­back of the Clean Pow­er Plan adding as many as 402 mil­lion addi­tion­al tons of CO2 by 2030

And then there are the direct adverse health effects that the com­bined roll­backs would have on the Amer­i­can peo­ple. The Administration’s own analy­sis for the auto and coal replace­ment rules shows that the addi­tion­al par­tic­u­lates, smog-form­ing chem­i­cals and oth­er con­ven­tion­al pol­lu­tants would cause near­ly 4,000 pre­ma­ture deaths and 65,000 addi­tion­al res­pi­ra­to­ry ail­ments, while exac­er­bat­ing asth­ma symp­toms for more than 24 mil­lion Amer­i­cans, includ­ing 6.3 mil­lion chil­dren. In its Clean Pow­er Plan rule­mak­ing, the EPA also pre­dict­ed that the increase in pre­ventable deaths and ill­ness­es would dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact low-income com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of color.

In sum, this isn’t a ster­ile dereg­u­la­tion” exer­cise. The Trump Admin­is­tra­tion is bla­tant­ly choos­ing not to con­trol our nation’s largest sources of cli­mate and con­ven­tion­al pol­lu­tion, at the cost of Amer­i­can lives and the health of the planet.