Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has joined Democratic colleagues from other states in filing legal challenges aimed at stopping the Trump administration from weakening environmental regulations. The suits reflect a growing trend of partisan alliances among states’ attorneys general.
Democratic attorneys general have filed lawsuits against the Trump administration on a variety of environmental fronts. In one case, they seek to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to repeal the Clean Power Plan, which requires power plants to curb carbon emissions.
“That’s a huge issue for the state of Maine because we are the end of the tailpipe when it comes to emissions,” says Maine Attorney General Janet Mills.
Mills says she her Democratic colleagues are also fighting the administration’s delay in setting energy efficiency standards and its attempt to weaken consumer protections from some common, but toxic, household products.
“They’re pulling back on the rules on methane gas, which is extremely harmful to the environment, which is a byproduct of the oil and gas industries and their operation. We are opposing their withdrawing the rules on mercury pollution.,” she says.
But Mills’ decision to join in filing the lawsuits has drawn fire from some Republicans, including state Rep. Larry Lockman of Amherst. Lockman believes that political speech is under threat from suits like the one launched last year against ExxonMobile, which seeks the release of records dealing with the company’s climate research.
“Frankly I am appalled that our attorney general joined a hyperpartisan coalition of state attorneys general that attempted to bully and intimidate private citizens in the exercise of their First Amendment rights,” he says.
Mills flatly rejects the notion that the lawsuit has anything to do with free speech, and vows to continue to participate in legal efforts aimed at protecting environmental laws.
She points out that Republican attorney generals are also banding together in support of Trump administration policies.
“They’ve intervened in the same lawsuits, the clean power plan lawsuit for instance, to oppose the regulations that we are supporting,” Mills says.
And Mills says colleagues in both parties are still cooperating on many other legal issues, and cites the tobacco settlement fund that is providing millions of dollars a year to the states.
Former Maine Attorney General James Tierney, who now teaches at Harvard Law School, says attorneys general have historically cooperated on various legal issues affecting the states without regard to partisan affiliation.
“States are supposed to be different than the federal government, that’s why our country is set up that way. So there is always going to be friction between state governments and the federal government regardless of who is the president,” he says.
But Tierney says changes in election funding laws, including the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, seem to have spurred more partisan
actions by state attorneys general in both parties.
Maine’s Legislature elects the attorney general here, and in some other states they are appointed by the governor. But 43 attorneys general run for election in their states, and Tierney says they can pay a political price for the positions they take.
“It used to be that an attorney general who stood up for the environment or for consumers, that would be a popular thing. Well it might be popular in the short run, but in the long run the defendants in those cases can just smother you in the next election with this untraceable money,” he says.
In addition to its legal action against the Trump administration, the group of Democratic attorneys general has also written to Congress urging it to oppose the 31 percent cut in EPA funding in President Trump’s budget outline. It’s not clear where those cuts would fall, but Mills and other state attorneys general are worried that they could affect programs that provide grants to the states to mitigate pollution, or support state efforts to enforce environmental laws.