Chris White on August 13, 2019

More than two dozen states and cities sued the Trump administration Tuesday to block President Donald Trump from easing environmental restriction on coal power plants.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, is leading the charge. She argues the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had no basis for weakening a regulation brought by former President Barack Obama that placed national limits on carbon dioxide pollution from coal power plants.

The so-called Clean Power Plan, or CPP, required states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2022 and encouraged state officials to close heavily polluting plants and replace such facilities with natural gas.

Obama’s rule was expected to force more coal power plants and mines to close down, costing thousands of jobs in the process. Nearly 40% of coal-fired power capacity has been retired or announced plans to retired as a result of market forces, technological change and an increase in regulations, according to some experts.

Massachusetts, Colorado, Wisconsin and North Carolina are a handful of states involved in the lawsuit. Miami, Los Angeles, New York City and Philadelphia are also suing. Their litigation comes after industry groups sued to stop Obama’s CPP from going into effect and won a reprieve in 2016 when the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the rules.

James and other attorneys general brought their case to United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. They argue Trump’s CPP replacement, the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, ignores the EPA’s responsibility under the law to set limits on greenhouse gases. The ACE rule promotes increases in carbon pollution, the lawsuit argues.

The case could make it to the Supreme Court, which could decide on behalf of the Trump administration and find the EPA’s Clean Air Act does not allow the government to make such sweeping pronouncements. A court loss could prove devastating to future administrations that seek to implement environmental regulations, academics argue.

“It would have a devastating effect on the ability of future administrations to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act,” Richard Revesz, a professor at New York University who specializes in environmental law, told The New York Times Tuesday. “It would essentially make it extremely difficult to regulate greenhouse gases effectively.”

Democratic California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called Trump’s new plan unlawful in a press statement. “President Trump’s attempt to gut our nation’s Clean Power Plan is foolish. It’s also unlawful. His fossil fuel protection plan fails everyone who stands for cleaner air. And it fails our economy, which depends on clean energy now more than ever,” he said.

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