Tierney Blog

Taking the Initiative on Environmental Justice

Findings show that people in poverty and people of color are much more likely to be exposed to harmful pollution. Due to budget cuts at the EPA, some have wondered if we lost the moment for environmental justice. But AGs in at least two states have made environmental justice a priority.

In late November, the NJ AG announced that it was making environmental justice a priority, and it filed eight lawsuits targeting environmentally hazardous sites in minority and lower-income communities across the state. The NJ AG also announced the creation of an environmental justice unit.

Earlier this year, the CA OAG announced that it was creating a bureau of environmental justice. It subsequently intervened in a lawsuit dealing with the building of an industrial park in a community already suffering from some of the highest pollution in California.

For more reading on this subject, take a look at our earlier post on state-level actions to protect the environment. Also, Columbia’s Sabin Center maintains a database compiling environmental actions undertaken by state attorneys general.  

AGs Acting at the State-Level to Protect the Environment

There is more to protecting the environment than opposing the policies of the current federal administration, as Vermont Attorney General T. J. Donovan has been demonstrating. His office, working with his state agency, recently resolved two issues arising from violations of solid waste disposal.

Other states also continue to be active at the state level.

With all the furor over environmental actions taken by the federal government, it is wise to remember that AG's are carrying out their environmental protection responsibilities at home.

For an excellent compendium of state environmental action matters, see the Sabin Center's database of State Attorneys General Environmental Actions and also check out the Environment Policy Area page on our website.

AG Offices are Mounting Challenges on All Fronts

Even as the headlines note the opposition of some attorneys general to the President's immigration policies, other divisions within AG offices are mounting other challenges. This case filed by 5 state AGs is a serious challenge to the President's vehicle policies. In July, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s suspended the rollout of the Obama administration's regulation that would penalize automakers for failing to meet certain fuel emission standards.

Connecticut Intervenes to Protect Enhanced Federal Emission Standards

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and his staff are continuing their opposition to federal regulatory roll backs by going to court to stop the Trump Administration from weakening federal vehicle emission standards.

According to a statement released on March 17, by filing a Motion to Intervene in the D.C. Court of Appeals in a pending case originally brought by auto manufacturers to block Obama Administration's emission standards, Connecticut hopes to allow the case to continue when the Trump Administration follows through on its promise to "undo the significant progress made toward safeguarding our clean air."

Sabin Center and StateAG.org Launch Environmental Action Database

In the face of a reduced federal presence, Columbia Law School's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, in partnership with StateAG.org, has produced a valuable legal research tool for those interested in environmental law and policy. The State AG Environmental Action Database includes a variety of environmental lawsuits and other actions involving state attorneys general. Users can search its contents by state, issue or type of action. The database also includes links to relevant documents and resources.

This impressive database has been put together by dedicated Columbia Law School students under the supervision of Jessica Wentz, who serves as Staff Attorney and Associate Research Scholar for the Sabin Center.

I cannot overstate the importance of this effort. It is the only place where this information has been brought together in a coherent, organized fashion. The database will remain a "work in progress" as AG offices provide more cases to be uploaded. Notwithstanding the efforts by some in Washington DC, this database is demonstrable proof that state attorneys general remain vigorous protectors of our environmental heritage.

West Va AG Wisely Retains Bankrupcy Expert in Coal Mine Environmental Cleanups

With various coal companies in or on the verge of bankruptcy, the AG of WVa has wisely retained a bankruptcy expert to protect his state's interest in assuring past clean up and restoration promises by the industry are carried out in the face of bitter litigation, where the hedge fund dominated creditors are battling for every dime. Because bankruptcy inherently deals in the world of broken promises, it requires sharp elbows and quick action by a state AG to make sure that disappearing assets remain for the public interest. An excellent paper by Columbia Law School graduate Tim Abbott, '07, analyzes this precise issue and remains highly relevant.