By Karen Savage
UPDATED Aug. 14 with an additional suit filed by environmental groups
A coalition of 22 states and seven cities has filed a lawsuit to block the Trump administration’s new rule governing emissions from power plants, alleging that the Affordable Clean Energy rule will accelerate climate change and have devastating impacts on public health and safety.
The group of states and cities argues that the Trump administration rule, known as ACE, will not reduce carbon emissions, as the Environmental Protection Agency is legally compelled to do, and will prolong the nation’s reliance on coal for power, the most polluting form of energy.
“The science is indisputable—our climate is changing, ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, weather is becoming more and more extreme,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “Without significant course correction, we are careening towards a climate disaster.”
The suit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is led by New York, Massachusetts, California, Hawaii, Rhode Island and the cities of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.
The ACE rule replaced the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the key policy of President Obama’s climate action plan that the Trump administration has worked to undo since he took office. The CPP set the first-ever nationwide limits on emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants, one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases.
The lawsuit contends that ACE rule, which rolls back the CPP’s limits, will not only fail to control emissions, it will also obstruct the progress of transitioning to clean, renewable-fired electricity generation, which climate experts have shown is essential to avoiding catastrophic levels of global warming.
“Rather than staying the course with policies aimed at fixing the problem and protecting people’s health, safety, and the environment, the Trump Administration repealed the Clean Power Plan and replaced it with this ‘Dirty Power’ rule,” James said. “My office, and this groundbreaking coalition of states and cities from across the nation, will fight back against this unlawful, do-nothing rule in order to protect our future from catastrophic climate change.”
An EPA spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but added that the “EPA worked diligently to ensure we produced a solid rule, that we believe will be upheld in the courts, unlike the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan.”
The Clean Power Plan had been challenged in court by a group of Republican-led states but the suit never did reach a conclusion before the Trump administration began repealing it.
The EPA is obligated by the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, as the Supreme Court ruled in Mass. v. EPA in 2007. The lawsuit alleges the new rule is in violation of that mandate and endangers their communities.
A recently released study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Syracuse University, Boston University School of Public Health, and Resources for the Future, appears to support those claims.
In the study, researchers evaluated the EPA’s analysis of the economic and social benefits of ACE and found that it failed to appropriately evaluate the rule’s impact on public health, the economy and the climate.
“Our analysis shows that the final ACE rule would do little to address climate change and would likely have even greater adverse air quality and health effects in some states than EPA has projected,” the authors wrote in the report.
Researchers said their analysis calls into question whether the ACE’s benefits “truly outweigh its costs” and found the rule “may result in more cases of respiratory illness, heart attacks, worsening asthma, and premature death in some states from exposure to higher fine particulate matter and ozone than the EPA has estimated.”
They found the rule could undercut states’ efforts to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals and “impact the ability of some states to meet and maintain federal air quality standards.”
Researchers also found that the ACE rule could “drive emissions higher still, making it even more challenging for the U.S. to meet its previous commitments under the Paris climate agreement and to achieve emissions reductions needed by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”
The states and cities maintain that unlike the CPP, which was modeled after successful state programs that require cleaner energy generation, ACE prohibits states from participating in some of those programs—including cap-and-trade programs—as a means of complying with the Clean Air Act.
The EPA calculated that ACE will reduce emissions by only 0.7 percent more by 2030 than having no rule at all. The lawsuit contends that under the new rule, emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide will increase in 18 states by 2030.
In a separate petition filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Wednesday, the Conservation Law Foundation, along with the Appalachian Mountain Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Clean Air Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club also challenged the rule.
“The Clean Power Plan is a powerful tool to address the severe and increasing dangers of climate change. The Trump administration’s replacement is inadequate to protect Americans’ health and safety from the climate crisis–and may result in more harmful air pollution in many states than no rule at all,” said Tomás Carbonell, lead attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund.
“We look forward to presenting a compelling case to the court about why the Trump administration’s irresponsible and dangerous attack on our nation’s Clean Power Plan is unlawful.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said the coalition of cities and state sued to stand up for science, uphold federal law, and protect the environment and public health.
“The coal lobbyists and climate deniers running the Trump Administration wrote every word of this illegal and dangerous rule.” she said.