California’s attorney general’s office is preparing to step up and lead the fight against President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back a slew of Obama-era environmental rules.
The battle against the Trump’s climate agenda hit the skids in May when former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned following allegations he assaulted several women. He was perceived as the head of the anti-Trump fight, a battle that includes several Democratic states attorneys general from across the U.S. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is now filling that void.
“We’re not looking to pick a fight, but we’re ready for one,” Becerra, a Democrat, told reporters Tuesday, referring to the cascade of lawsuits his counterparts have foisted on the Trump administration. Becerra has mostly stayed in the background, allowing California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to take center stage while he played second-fiddle.
Things are changing as Brown is nearing retirement and Schneiderman slides further out of the media cycle. Becerra is becoming the face of the coalition, taking on Trump and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s mission to deconstruct California’s regulatory scheme.
“Our lawsuits weren’t driven by a desire to be out there first, to challenge an action by the administration simply because they were doing an action. It was because we were protecting California and its people and our values,” said Becerra, who became the state’s top lawman in 2017 after his predecessor, Kamala Harris, was elected to the U.S. Senate.
“I don’t think there was any doubt that we knew we were — as a state that’s leading the way on many of these [environmental] issues — going to be a target on many of the actions that candidate Trump talked about,” Becerra noted. He’s leading a state that has engaged in 19 environmental lawsuits directed at the Trump administration, including nine focusing on the EPA.
His state’s lawsuits include challenges to the EPA’s decision not to implement the Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the agency’s move to dramatically alter vehicle fuel-emission standards. Becerra has made gains on a handful of legal measures — California has forced Trump’s hand on at least 12 instances related to the environment. (RELATED: Trump’s EPA Prepares To Repeal A Key Part Of Obama’s Climate Agenda)
Trump’s EPA announced in April that the former president’s greenhouse gas rules for 2022 and 2025 vehicles are too ambitious and unduly hurt the automotive industry. The move roiled California, which is permitted to create its own car emissions rules. California has also dabbled in other lawsuits Schneiderman and other attorneys general widely support, but are not necessarily aimed at the president.
Oakland, San Francisco and San Mateo began pursuing Exxon and other major oil companies, claiming the Texas-based oil company was partially to blame for weather-related floods. The lawsuits, which were eventually rejected in court, demanded the company pay for mitigation efforts.
Schneiderman began investigating the company in 2016, claiming Exxon spent decades hiding climate-change knowledge from public investors. (RELATED: California’s AG Refuses To Confirm Or Deny Involvement In Exxon Crusade)
Much of the New York attorney general’s initial probe is based on reports from liberal-leaning media outlet InsideClimate News, as well as Columbia University — both of which claim Exxon has known the risks of global warming for decades but kept such knowledge under wraps. The probe has come under intense scrutiny, especially among analysts who raise doubts about the research behind the pursuit.
Becerra took a slightly different tactic on the Exxon lawsuits. Like his predecessor, he refused to say if California is seriously considering leaping headlong into an Exxon probe. Both Harris and Becerra claim the state does not discuss contents related to current or potential investigations.
Their non-committal positions allowed lawmakers to cast them as supporters of Schneiderman’s pursuit. But circumstances have changed, and Becerra is stepping into the limelight, if for no other reason than to tee off against the current presidential administration.
The sheer number of lawsuits Becerra has leveled against Trump has led some in his state to believe he’s spending too many resources on fighting the White House and not enough on state issues. Yet California’s first Hispanic attorney general does not see a distinction between attacking the president and protecting his state.
“We’re going to do what it takes to continue to keep California moving forward,” said Becerra, who is currently running for another term as California’s top attorney. “We’re not going to sit back. We’re not going to spectate. And we’re going to take charge of our own destiny.”
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