New York attorney general Letitia James has had a busy start to the week. On Tuesday, she announced plans to sue the Trump administration over its gutting of the Endangered Species Act. And on Wednesday, she, along with 21 other state attorneys general and seven cities announced they were suing the administration over its weak-arse replacement to the Clean Power Plan.
A legal challenge in some form has been expected ever since the Trump administration dropped the Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE), its Clean Power Plan replacement, in June. And now it’s here, marking the start of what could be a protracted legal battle in the U.S. over the administration’s power plant regulations.
The lawsuit alleges that ACE doesn’t do enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, something the Environmental Protection Agency is mandated to do under the Clean Air Act. A lot of this ties to the concept of what is the “best system of emission reductions,” as defined by the Clean Air Act.
Under Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the administration set out targets for each state to reduce its power plant emissions and incentivised moving away from coal, the most carbon-intensive form of energy. In comparison, ACE doesn’t lay out any specific targets for carbon pollution reductions and only asks that plants rely on “inside the fence-line” solutions to reduce emissions. Those improvements would largely be centred around improving efficiency, a move that’s in line with the Trump administration’s attempts to prop up the coal industry in the face of prevailing economic headwinds and the looming climate crisis.
In addition to arguing correctly that the ACE rule is tantamount to climate denial, James and the coalition of cities and states are also suing on the grounds that its approach is bunk and ignores the “best system” concept central to the Clean Air Act. The group also rightly points out that the rule is basically useless for reducing emissions.
In fact, research indicates that some states could see carbon emissions increase under ACE. The EPA’s own analysis from the Obama years found that the Clean Power Plan would also have saved 3,600 lives annually due to co-benefits of reducing mercury and other harmful pollutants, so those are also out the window.
“My office, and this groundbreaking coalition of states and cities from across the nation, will fight back against this unlawful, do-nothing rule in order to protect our future from catastrophic climate change,” she said in a statement announcing the suit.
The lawsuit is a neat encapsulation of the polarisation in the U.S. between states taking the climate crisis seriously and those that would rather do nothing (or at least very little) about it.
While the current suit alleges the ACE rule doesn’t do enough, 24 states filed a lawsuit when the Clean Power Plan dropped alleging it did too much. That coalition of Republican attorneys general was led by disgraced former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt who went on to become disgraced former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. That coalition won a stay of the Clean Power Plan after years of legal wrangling.
This new battle is likely to be a long one, too.