The power of the Democratic Party is at or near an all-time nadir, despite rumblings of a blue-wave election in November. In Washington, the GOP controls the White House and both chambers of Congress. Across the country, Republicans sit in two-thirds of all governors’ mansions.
Democrats, however, are exercising what little clout they possess to fight back against the Trump administration on energy and environmental issues.
Through the first 13 months of the Trump administration, state attorneys general from a slew of mostly blue states took at least 80 legal actions against the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations, according to a report released Tuesday by the State Energy and Environment Impact Center.
“We have even more work to do,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) told reporters Tuesday. “Not only are they not enforcing the laws, they’re actually working at counter purposes.”
The sheer volume of lawsuits, letters and legal briefings shows how Democratic attorneys general have led the charge against President Trump's deregulatory agenda at a time when the minority party lack the levers of power in Congress needed to issue subpoenas, call hearings or otherwise hold the administration accountable.
Democratic attorneys general have tried to use the court system to stymie the rollback of Obama-era rules meant to curb the emission of climate-warming gases, including carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, methane from onshore oil and natural gas extraction, and hydrofluorocarbons from refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.
For example, the Trump administration has sought to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, finalized in 2015, to cut carbon emissions from electricity generation. The Democratic attorneys general have fought the repeal on the grounds the EPA is required by a 2009 Supreme Court decision to regulate carbon emissions because of their effect on Earth’s climate.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) has been the most aggressive, leading or joining in on 49 legal actions. Healey and Xavier Becerra, California’s Democratic attorney general, were not far behind with 47 legal actions each.
At times, Republican attorneys general joined in briefs to the federal government, such as when Mark Brnovich of Arizona asked the National Park Service to reconsider hiking entrance fees and when Ken Paxton of Texas asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure the recently passed tax cuts benefit customers and not just electric utilities.
The lawyers have enjoyed some victories. In March, the Energy Department dropped its effort to delay implementing new energy-efficiency standards after nine attorneys general challenged the agency in court.
By June, the department had not published final energy-efficiency rules, and they sued again. This month, a federal-district court sided with the attorneys general.
But some of those successes could be short-lived, especially as executive-branch officials gained experience during Trump’s first year in office.
In October, for example, a federal judge ordered the government to enforce an Interior Department rule regulating the leaking of methane — only for the Trump administration to reissue a rule to “temporarily suspend or delay” the old one. States sued again.
In total, 26 states and the District of Columbia have taken some sort of legal action against the Trump administration. The states are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Vermont and Washington.
The State Energy and Environment Impact Center — housed at New York University and launched in August by David J. Hayes, who served as the Interior Department’s deputy secretary under presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — helps coordinate legal actions among the left-leaning attorneys general.
"State attorneys general are using every tool in their toolbox," Hayes said in the report. "Indeed, attorneys general possess unique power to stop unlawful actions dead in their tracks at the courthouse."
During the Obama administration, Republican attorneys general also collaborated on lawsuits against the EPA and other departments. Much of that coordination was done by Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general sued the EPA 14 times.
Now Pruitt heads that agency, which under Trump he has transformed into one of the president's most powerful deregulatory tools.
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— “No deal” after White House meeting: President Trump met with oil- and corn-state lawmakers Tuesday to discuss the Renewable Fuel Standard. But the group left without a deal for reforming the law mandating biofuels like corn-based ethanol be mixed into the nation's gasoline supply, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) tweeted:
Just left WH mtg on the RFS. Same discussion again. No deal made. RFS program design destroyed by RIN cap/waiver. Not “win win” promised Would destroy ethanol demand making benefits of RVP useless— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) February 27, 2018
Trump had called the meeting, which also included Republican Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa), per Reuters, amid an ongoing debate over the biofuel policy following the bankruptcy of a Philadelphia-based refiner.
— “Climate peacocks:” The League of Conservation Voters gave GOP members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus a 16 percent average on key environmental issues in 2017, Bloomberg News reports, after members of a caucus voted last year to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and to roll back regulations of methane emissions. One new member even introduced a bill last year that "terminates" the EPA.
The office of Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who co-founded the climate caucus consisting of 35 Republicans and Democrats each, defended its members against the scorecard. "It’s unfortunate that some environmental groups disingenuously and cynically put the interests of the Democratic Party above the cause of a clean planet," a Curbelo spokeswoman told Bloomberg.
— "Mexican" judge sides with Trump (and he's now being dubbed a "U.S. judge:" "A federal judge whom President Trump suggested would be biased against him because of the judge’s 'Mexican' heritage sided with the administration Tuesday in a lawsuit over whether officials could move forward with expedited plans to build a border wall with Mexico," The Post's Matt Zapotosky reports. U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel wrote the government had the authority to waive environmental laws in building a border wall.
After the decision, Trump tweeted:
I have decided that sections of the Wall that California wants built NOW will not be built until the whole Wall is approved. Big victory yesterday with ruling from the courts that allows us to proceed. OUR COUNTRY MUST HAVE BORDER SECURITY!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2018
— Trump tilts toward hard-liners as trade decisions loom: Trump is expected to name hard-line advisers as he grapples with key tariff decisions, including whether to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. “On imported steel, the Commerce Department has recommended that Trump apply a global tariff or quota on all steel imports or impose a trade tax only on imports from 12 nations, including China,” The Post’s David J. Lynch and Damian Paletta explain. Such a tariff would burden pipeline companies with higher prices for raw material.
— Leading on regulating lead poisoning: The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is moving forward with proposals that would be the toughest regulations on lead in drinking water in the country, three years after high lead levels were found in the blood of children in Flint, Mich. that a state of emergency was declared. The proposed changes include lowering the acceptable lead level in tap water, testing for lead and copper annually and replacing lead service lines in every city in the state at the expense of the water system, Michigan radio reported.
— U.S. to be No. 1 oil producer "very soon:" The United States is on track to top Russia as the world’s biggest producer of oil by 2019 at the latest, according to the International Energy Agency. The agency’s executive director, Fatih Birol, said at an event in Tokyo the nation could possibly overtake Russia this year and told Reuters the United States's “shale growth is very strong, the pace is very strong ... The United States will become the No.1 oil producer sometime very soon.”
— The Green Mountain State's biggest city goes very green: Burlington, Vt. is the only U.S. city that relies completely on renewable energy sources, according to a report from the environmental research firm CDP. On Tuesday, CDP published a list of 101 cities worldwide that are at least 70 percent powered by clean energy, the Guardian reports. The number of cities has more than doubled since 2015.
— Oil sanctions on the docket: The United States is considering imposing oil sanctions on Venezuela ahead of that nation’s elections in April. The Trump administration is still “weighing the impact such sanctions would have on ordinary Venezuelans as well as on U.S. refiners that import heavy Venezuelan crude,” Bloomberg News reports, adding Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is deciding between “new restrictions specifically targeting Venezuela’s oil sector; or measures to tighten existing financial sanctions and thereby make it impossible for the autocratic regime to profit from its chief source of income.”
- The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on restoring Puerto Rico’s electric infrastructure.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on “The Administration’s Framework for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America” on Thursday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee holds a hearing on examining cybersecurity and energy infrastructure on Thursday.
- Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy holds an event on Energy, Economics and Geopolitics in the Gulf Arab States on Thursday.
Bracewell will host an infrastructure symposium including a discussion led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) on Thursday.
- The MIT 2018 Energy Conference begins on Friday.
— Spring sprung early: For the second year in a row, spring is early, The Post’s Angela Fritz reports: "In the Mid-Atlantic, cherry blossoms started to pop out of their buds in mid-February, and the crocuses have all but come and gone … As much as spring is welcome when it arrives, it seems to feel better after a long winter. This year, winter never really started.”