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Bold Ambitions, Strong Foundations

Aerial view of solar panels, with construction cranes overlaid.

By Bethany A. Davis Noll
April 8, 2021

Infrastructure week has finally arrived.

At an event in Pittsburgh, President Biden introduced the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion effort to simultaneously invest in the country’s infrastructure and combat climate change. If passed, it would be one of the largest domestic investments in the country since World War II.

This plan is groundbreaking and important. The United States’ infrastructure is in desperate need of reinforcement. The plan lays the physical foundation for work to combat climate change. It will also serve as a basis to build stronger environmental, clean energy and climate policy.

As EPA Administrator Michael Regan said, investing in clean energy and infrastructure will “complement — but not replace — EPA’s commitment to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce harmful air pollution from power plant smokestacks.” The nation’s bedrock environmental laws remain as important as ever.

The work of state attorneys general is a crucial piece of these efforts. State attorneys general have long played an important role in defending policies to combat climate change. They've been leaders in standing up for their states’ abilities to incentivize clean energy through mandates and subsidies. Allowing states to innovate around climate has led the renewable portfolio standard, a tool already used in some form by 37 states, to feature prominently at the federal level in President Biden’s plan. And state AGs have defended strong federal programs, pushing the prior administration to fulfill its duties to promulgate energy efficiency standards, as just one example.

As another example, in March, the Interior Department announced efforts to kickstart offshore wind development, aiming for 30 GW by 2030. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey emphasized the importance of offshore wind in the face of obstacles to the Vineyard Wind project from the Trump administration.

With the federal government poised to spend trillions – trillions with a “T” – on clean energy, attorneys general also will be working to make sure the communities that have been disproportionately burdened by pollution are not left behind in the clean energy transition. Several states have already made progress on this. Last year, New Jersey became the first state to require mandatory permit denials if the relevant environmental analysis found the affected community was already overburdened by environmental harms. In Massachusetts, a recently enacted environmental justice bill will codify many of the state’s environmental justice policies to help achieve this goal — more details on this below. New York continues work on implementing the equity provisions in the state's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act — more on that below as well.

The American Jobs Plan is a proposal to build the country back better — no doubt. Meanwhile, state AGs will continue their essential work of day-to-day enforcement of environmental laws and defense of progressive policies and programs.

Bethany A. Davis Noll is an expert in administrative and environmental law and an experienced litigator. She is Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center.