Trump Administration Is Hit With 2 Environmental Lawsuits in 1 Day

By Yessenia Funes May 04, 2017

Several environmental groups launched two separate lawsuits against the Trump administration yesterday (May 3). Both challenge recent actions the administration has taken that pose environmental risks: President Donald Trump’s April 28 executive order attempting to open the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to offshore oil and gas drilling and the EPA’s April 25 notice to roll back regulations on toxic power plant waste.

Environmental law firm Earthjustice is representing both cases. Trump issued the executive order to lift a ban former President Barack Obama placed on the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. In response, 10 groups decided to sue him in League of Conservation Voters et al v. Trump et al. Plaintiffs include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands.

Groups allege that drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic would put communities in danger. In the Arctic, Alaska Native communities rely on these waters and land to find resources to survive. As stated in the lawsuit, “Some of these [at-risk] animals (walruses, whales, seals, etc.) also support thriving indigenous Alaska Native cultural and subsistence activities.” That was one of the reasons Obama issued the protections, in order to make these available for future generations.

Plaintiffs are asking the U.S. District Court of Alaska to declare that the executive order is unconstitutional. In a joint statement, they said:

President Trump’s April 28 executive order exceeds his constitutional and statutory authority and violates federal law. Responding to a national groundswell of opposition to expanded offshore drilling, President Obama permanently ended oil and gas leasing in most of the Arctic Ocean and key parts of the Atlantic Ocean in December, using his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). Until Trump, no president has ever tried to reverse a permanent withdrawal made under OCSLA, which does not authorize such a reversal.  

A different set of environmental groups served the EPA with another lawsuit, Clean Water Action et al v. Pruitt et al. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced April 14 that his agency would look into repealing the Electric Power Generating Rule (ELG Rule) within the Clean Water Act, which was intended to reduce by 1.4 million pounds the amount of toxic metals and other pollutants plants are allowed to dispose in 2018. The EPA found the ELG Rule too costly and placed an indefinite hold on it April 25.

Now, eight environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Environmental Integrity Project, are taking Pruitt to court.

“These standards would have tackled the biggest source of toxic water pollution in the country, and now the Trump EPA is trying to toss them out. It’s indefensible,” said Pete Harrison, an attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance, in a statement. “The EPA didn’t even pretend to seek public input before plowing ahead with this rollback that could allow millions of pounds of preventable toxic pollution to go into our water.”

Power plants emit toxins such as lead, arsenic and mercury—all harmful to human health. When they enter waterways, they can end up in drinking water or in the food chain. Plaintiffs are requesting that the District of Columbia’s federal district court vacate the stay the EPA implemented and issue an injunction so that the EPA reinstate the ELG Rule.

Environmentalists have been serving the current administration with lawsuit after lawsuit: one on the proposed Mexico-U.S. border wall, more on the Keystone XL pipeline and so forth. But a White House official told The Washington Post yesterday that the administration is “confident that President Trump’s common-sense decision to boost our energy sector will be vindicated in the judicial process.”