Climate Progress at Climate Week

A road sign depicting a black right-pointing arrow with a yellow background, in front of a scenic mountain range

By Bethany A. Davis Noll and Hampden T. Macbeth 
September 23, 2021

Happy Climate Week! Hosted annually with the UN and the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP), Climate Week provides the chance for businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations to come together to assess progress on climate action and on achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement in advance of the international climate conference (26th COP) in November. This Climate Week, it is a great time to look at the many proceedings that state attorneys general have been active in this year.

As litigators and advocates, state attorneys general have many steps they can take and have taken to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate goals. A big policy win is up first. Late spring, a coalition of five attorneys general submitted comments with the Army Corps of Engineers on Formosa Plastics’ plan to build a petrochemical plant in St. James Parish, Louisiana. The comments urged the agency to consider the plant’s “significant greenhouse gas emissions and concomitant contribution to the global climate crisis” and to address the disproportionate impacts the plant would have on low-income, Black communities in the area. Just recently, and after that letter was submitted, the Corps announced it would prepare an environmental impact statement for the plant, analyzing the climate, environmental justice, and cultural impacts of the plant.
Attorneys general have filed a flurry of other comments in the past few months. In June, twelve attorneys general urged the Securities and Exchange Commission to require companies to issue “detailed, meaningful disclosures related to the impacts of climate change on the company.” They argued that climate risk disclosure will allow Americans to make better-informed choices about where to invest their money and how much climate risk they are willing to tolerate. 
In July, a coalition of fourteen attorneys general filed comments with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in support of the agency’s proposal to slash production and consumption of the potent greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) 85% by 2036, asking the agency to swiftly finalize and begin implementing the rule. The final version of the rule was issued today
As discussed in more detail in today’s newsletter, state AGs have been busy in multiple proceedings just during the past two weeks, with multistate coalitions weighing in on energy efficiency standard updates and asking Congress to include strong climate provisions as the House and Senate consider infrastructure and budget reconciliation legislation. AGs also called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to reinstate a congressionally-mandated adjustment to the fines vehicle manufacturers pay for failing to meet fuel economy standards for cars.
Speaking of cars, look out next week as comments are due on the EPA’s proposed rule to strengthen the greenhouse gas emissions standards for light-duty vehicles for 2023 and later model years. The proposed rule would kick to the curb the so-called Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient rule that weakened emissions standards adopted in 2012 in favor of a rule that would reduce emissions by 10% in model year 2023 vehicles and 5% each year afterwards. 
These AG actions help highlight how multifaceted climate work is. As Climate Week engages advocates and the public in events to examine climate justice, transmission, and a plethora of other topics, agencies are busy with policy and regulatory changes to protect the environment, climate, and human health, including cutting HFCs, reducing vehicle emissions, and updating energy efficiency standards. And there is plenty more to come as a busy summer leads into a busy fall.

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. Hampden T. Macbeth is an attorney with experience in climate, environmental, and energy law and policy. He is a Staff Attorney at the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center.