State attorneys general have a new weapon in their efforts to halt the rollback of federal environmental regulations.
New York University School of Law has launched the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, which will serve as a resource for attorneys general across the country who are fighting to preserve climate, clean energy, and other federal environmental protection initiatives through the courts.
It’s the first law school center focused specifically on state attorneys general and the environment, and is being funded through a nearly $6 million donation from Bloomberg Philanthropies—the charity of billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
David Hayes, the former deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the U.S. Department of Interior under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, has been named the center’s executive director.
California and New York’s attorneys general, both Democrats, have taken leading roles in challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to rescind environmental regulations. But the new center will be nonpartisan, Hayes said in an interview Monday.
“We welcome and hope there will be Republican attorneys general as well,” said Hayes, while acknowledging that the center will support “progressive positions” on environmental issues.
The center will place 10 NYU fellows in the offices of state attorneys general for two years—the length of Bloomberg’s funding commitment. The center is looking for attorneys with five to 10 years of experience in environmental law, and they needn’t be NYU Law graduates, Hayes said.
Additionally, the center will help coordinate environmental efforts between states on matters of national significance. Finally, the center will help publicize the work state attorneys general are doing to stop the rollback of environmental protections.
“By taking affirmative action to protect our clean air and water, confront climate change, promote clean energy, and insist on sound stewardship of our incomparable public lands, state attorneys general give us hope that the rule of law, and our shared environmental and public health values, will prevail,” Hayes wrote in a blog post explaining the center’s mission.
Hayes has been a visiting lecturer at Stanford Law School since 2013, and has taught courses on renewable, energy, wildlife trafficking, and climate change, among other topics.
State attorneys general have already seen some early success in their efforts to band together against the rollback of environmental regulations.
The Environmental Protection Agency reversed course this month and said it would enforce the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which are required under the Clean Air Act and set smog limits. That change came after 15 states and Washington, D.C., sued after the EPA said it would delay enforcement.
A coalition of attorneys general has also banded together to defend regulations that limit the amount of greenhouse gasses power plants emit.
State attorneys general are uniquely positioned to oppose the Trump administration’s efforts to undo recent environmental protections, Hayes said, yet those efforts are also taxing their limited resources. The new center will provide additional legal help.
“It’s exciting to bring additional resources to state attorneys general who already have stepped up to protect shared environmental values,” said Richard Revesz, dean emeritus of NYU Law and chair of the center’s advisory council.
That help can’t come soon enough, according to Hayes.
“The administration’s denial of climate change, its aggressive promotion of fossil fuels, and its puzzling antipathy toward the booming clean energy sector, also threaten to undo years of bipartisan progress in advancing public health and sustainable resource development,” he wrote.