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Court Challenges, 75 Cities Line Up Against Trump ‘Executive Disorders’

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Donald Trump’s decision to lift a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands and his approval of the Keystone XL pipeline were the focus of the first two lawsuits launched by environmental groups this week, in what the Washington Post describes as initial shots “in what’s likely to be a long, bitter war over the environment.”

“No one voted to pollute our public lands, air, or drinking water in the last election, yet the Trump administration is doing the bidding of powerful polluters as nearly its first order of business,” said Earthjustice lead attorney Jenny Harbine. “Our legal system remains an important backstop against the abuses of power we’ve witnessed over the course of the past two months.”

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Earthjustice joins the U.S. Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana in a suit that declares the coal lease decision illegal, since “it allows a massive area of land to be disrupted without any federally required study of the potential environmental impact,” the Post reports.

The Northern Cheyenne are concerned that coal mining near their reservation “will impact our pristine air and water quality, will adversely affect our sacred cultural properties and traditional spiritual practices, and ultimately destroy the traditional way of life the Nation has fought to preserve for centuries,” said Tribal President L. Jace Killsback.

“The moratorium was a common-sense policy move to fix our federal coal program, and Trump’s actions likely mean that program will stay broken,” said WildEarth Guardians climate and energy specialist Shannon Hughes. “Managing public lands and public interest to bail out energy executives is nothing short of corruption. A moratorium won’t help a dying coal industry, but it will help its CEOs line their pockets.”

The Post notes that U.S. environmental groups “have been raising money and preparing to battle Trump since his election, and the fight over coal is expected to be the first of many.” And on the NRDC Experts Blog, Canada Project Director Anthony Swift lays out the case against Keystone, brought by NRDC, the Northern Plains Resource Council, the Bold Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and U.S. Sierra Club.

“In the years since the Obama Administration conducted an environmental review of Keystone XL and rejected it, the case for the tar sands pipeline has only deteriorated, as low oil prices are causing major oil companies to flee the tar sands and new studies show that both the climate impacts of tar sands development and the environmental impacts of tar sands spills are worse than we knew,” Swift writes.

“By ignoring all of these developments and arbitrarily reversing the rejection of Keystone XL, the Trump administration violated laws intended to ensure that we only moved forward on decisions that serve our nation’s interests, based on the best information available,” he adds. “An objective view of that information leads to one conclusion: a project that would move 830,000 barrels of carbon-intensive tar sands [per day] from Alberta through the U.S. breadbasket is not in our interest, and should be rejected.”

Other legal specialists said Trump’s decision to revoke Obama-era climate change guidance under the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) won’t protect government departments that fail to assess the climate impacts of their actions, Greenwire reports [2] [subs req’d]. “Whenever greenhouse gases are significant or rise from the project, either directly or indirectly,” said Jayni Hein, policy director at the New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, “almost regardless of what the executive order says—if an agency doesn’t do the proper analysis under NEPA, it could be subject to litigation.”

That means agencies would be “smart” to continue assessing their actions through a climate lens, Greenwire notes, even though the “executive disorder”, as some climate hawks have retitled it, says otherwise.

“I do think this is one of the areas in which the president’s order is more bark than bite, because analysis of climate is plainly required under NEPA and other governing laws,” said Abigail Dillen, vice president of litigation for climate and energy at EarthJustice.

Greenwire also predicts legal action over Trump’s decision to revoke the Obama Administration’s metric for the social cost of carbon.

Cities are shaping up as another powerful source of opposition to the Trump action, with 75 mayors vowing [3] to double down on carbon reductions and reverse efforts to roll back climate regulations.

“Nothing can stop us from investing in electric cars and mass transit; from ending our reliance on coal; from installing cool roofs and pavement; or from leading America in solar power,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“Climate action is also an investment in our economy and job creation — electric vehicles, solar power, energy efficiency, and battery storage are all avenues to restoring our nation’s manufacturing base and create good, middle class jobs,” Climate Mayors said in a letter to Trump [4].

“Today, one in 50 American jobs is now in the solar sector, surpassing employment in oil, gas, and coal extraction combined. Texas is once again experiencing an energy boom — this time, with wind power. In fact, the majority of wind jobs in the U.S. are in congressional districts that voted for you.”

Trump also took fire Wednesday from General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who said the former reality TV star’s “imagination is at work if he doesn’t believe in climate change science or the Paris agreement,” Politico reports [5].

“Companies must be resilient and learn to adjust to political volatility all over the world,” Immelt wrote Wednesday in an internal blog post obtained by Politico. “Companies must have their own ‘foreign policy’ and create technology and solutions that address local needs for our customers and society.”

As for the executive order, “we believe climate change should be addressed on a global basis through multinational agreements, such as the Paris agreement,” Immelt wrote. “We hope the United States continues to play a constructive role in furthering solutions to these challenges, and at GE, we will continue to lead with our technology and actions.”