State AGs Making the Case for Climate Optimism

By Elizabeth Klein
July 25, 2019

This past weekend, much of the United States endured an unprecedented heat wave. Cities across the country broke heat records, and over 150 million people were under some level of heat warning or advisory. The misery has moved on to Europe this week, with countries like the Netherlands and Belgium recording their highest ever temperatures
 
Here in the U.S. and abroad, this misery comes after the world experienced the hottest June ever recorded. According to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average global temperature was 1.71 degrees F above the 20th-century average, which is alarming on its own, but more so given NOAA’s report that nine of the ten hottest Junes have occurred since 2010. 
 
Aside from the blistering heat, recent news headlines have included these cheery pronouncements: “Extreme weather, rising seas, and a melting Arctic could worsen global tensions;” “Climate change is increasing hurricanes, tropical storms and floods, scientists confirm;” “Ozone threat from climate change: Increasing global temperatures will impact air quality;” and “Deadly fungal disease may be linked to climate change, study suggests.” 
 
Unfortunately, it does not appear that the current administration is taking any of these issues seriously. From burying climate change science, to rolling back commonsense regulations that would address major sources of climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions, the administration often seems singularly focused on paying as little attention to these problems as possible. And it does so despite the admonitions from fairly straight-laced entities like the Government Accountability Office, which recently suggested that some basic planning might be wise to prevent the fiscal devastation sure to come as extreme weather events and disasters exacerbated by climate change grow more and more devastating for humans and the environment.
 
If I have depressed you so far, perhaps this advice will help: “Some people complain that this is the hottest summer in the last 125 years, but I like to think of it as the coolest summer of the next 125 years! Glass half full!” 
 
Sarcasm aside, perhaps some optimism is called for. As this week’s Legally Speaking demonstrates, state AGs “can’t stop won’t stop” in their persistent insistence that the federal government follow the law and stop its relentless and short-sighted attacks on our nation’s bedrock environmental statutes, including the rollback of efforts like the Clean Car Standards, which were meant to address one of our nation’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
 
Indeed, states around the country are stepping in to fill the void of climate change leadership that we so desperately need. Just last week, New York’s governor signed the Climate Leadership and Protection Act, an ambitious plan aimed at reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and shifting to renewable energy. Just before the heatwave hit, Colorado’s governor signed into law a measure that would force that state’s public utilities commission to account for the climate costs of fossil fuel-sourced energy and require that utilities put together clean energy plans that demonstrate how they intend to contribute to the state’s 100 percent clean energy goal. You can read more about this initiative here, from our clean energy attorney Jessica Bell.
 
As a great American songwriter once said, “pessimism and optimism are slammed up against each other … the tension between them is where it’s all at, it’s what lights the fire.” Read on for some prime examples of state AGs keeping that fire alive.


Elizabeth Klein is an experienced attorney who specializes in clean energy, climate change and environmental issues. Klein is the Deputy Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, and served at the Interior Department during the Clinton and Obama administrations.