By David J. Hayes
August 22, 2019
State attorneys general have been successfully waging high-profile fights against the administration’s efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and other bedrock environmental laws.
While these pollution-oriented fights have garnered the most attention, state attorneys general have also been vigorously guarding their states’ conservation interests, including federal intrusions that impact traditional state purview over wildlife and the integrity of land, water and coastal resources.
As reported previously in Legally Speaking, attorneys general filed suit against the Interior Department’s determination that energy companies are no longer liable for foreseeable and preventable activities that kill and harm birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In an important decision rendered on July 31, a federal district court confirmed that because of state ownership interests in their wildlife, state attorneys general have standing to sue the federal government for abandoning its responsibilities to protect migratory birds.
Last week, as referenced below, state attorneys general reacted swiftly in criticizing, and promising to sue, the administration for rolling back long-standing wildlife protections under the Endangered Species Act. This followed comprehensive comments that California AG Xavier Becerra and Massachusetts AG Maura Healey filed, along with eight additional AGs, objecting to draft ESA rules published last fall by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce.
Attorneys general also are fighting to maintain the integrity of landscapes and seascapes that provide important conservation benefits for their states, and the nation. Led by Maryland AG Brian Frosh, state AGs have vociferously opposed offshore oil testing and drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, citing the states’ strong economic and environmental interests in protecting important coastal resources.
State AGs also have been working to protect America’s special places, including our National Parks, National Monuments, and National Wildlife Refuges. And before the federal government approves permits relating to the mining, drilling, and transport of coal and oil and gas, attorneys general have insisted that the feds comprehensively evaluate the environmental impacts that such activities may have on land, water and wildlife resources, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
With our natural resources under pressure on many fronts, we owe a debt of gratitude to the many state attorneys general who are standing up for our shared conservation values.
David J. Hayes is a nationally recognized environmental, energy and natural resources lawyer who leads the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center.