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ATTORNEY GENERAL PUSHES ENVIRONMENTAL LAW ENFORCEMENT IN FEDERAL COURTS
November 7, 2001
CONTACT: Jon H. Edwards, Assistant Attorney General Natural Resources Division 207-626-8800
Attorney General Steven Rowe announced today that his office is pushing to protect the environment in two cases of national significance-advocating in one case for the rights of states to press environmental enforcement independent of the federal government, and opposing any rollback of federal environmental standards in the other case.
In a brief authored by Maine Assistant Attorney General Jon Edwards and submitted by Attorney General Rowe and the Attorneys General of states from coast to coast, the states argue that the Court should respect the long tradition of state and federal government independence in enforcing their respective environmental laws. These laws allow independent enforcement actions by state and federal governments if, for example, state interests have not been adequately addressed by the federal EPA, or conversely states are not adequately enforcing environmental laws against polluters, as has long been Maine's contention with respect to air pollution emanating from industries in the Midwestern states. Prior court rulings on this issue have split, which makes this particular federal appeals court case of great significance.
"We are urging the appeals court to uphold the long-standing independence of state and federal governments in enforcing their respective environmental laws," said Attorney General Rowe. "By doing so, we hope the Court will act to protect the environment rather than the violators of the nation's environmental laws."
Assistant Attorney General Jon Edwards, a member of the Natural Resources Division, said that the federal hazardous waste statute involved in this suit specifically allows dual federal and state enforcement under their respective laws. If the federal government's enforcement action is barred in this lawsuit, the result would be to allow failure by other states to maintain and adhere to national standards that are important to Maine. "Uneven enforcement of environmental laws particularly hurts states like Maine, which suffer adverse effects of pollution generated in upwind or upstream states. In addition, law-abiding industries in one state could face unfair competitive disadvantage from law-breaking competitors in other states," said Edwards.
If the federal appeals court sides with the attorneys general, upholding EPA's and the states' right to pursue separate enforcement actions, there would be a conflict between two of the federal circuit courts. Such a "circuit split" could only be resolved if the Untied States Supreme Court ruled on the issue.
Attorney General Rowe also recently filed suit against the United States Department of Energy and Spencer Abraham, the Secretary of the Department of Energy, challenging an effort by the federal government to rollback energy efficiency standards for certain heating and cooling appliances. In this case, pending in federal district court in New York, a number of plaintiff states are seeking an injunction barring the Department of Energy from abandoning efficiency standards finalized under the Clinton administration. The higher efficiency standards for heating and cooling appliances were designed to reduce demand for electricity nationally, which in turn would reduce air pollution caused by the generation of electricity and alleviate regional power shortages. Since Maine's air quality is adversely affected by pollution from large, coal-fired electrical utilities in the Midwest and South, the new standards would have assisted Maine's efforts to clean the air. The measure also would have lowered electricity bills for consumers as they replaced older, less efficient appliances.
Maine will argue in the case that "anti-backsliding" provisions in federal law prevent the Department of Energy from abandoning the higher efficiency standards in favor of lower standards sought by lobbyists representing appliance manufacturers. The other Plaintiff States are New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, California and Nevada.