To celebrate Earth Day 2021, New York Attorney General Letitia James today highlighted a number of local, statewide, and federal public health and environmental protection efforts that her office has taken to protect communities in New York City and on Long Island.
“Throughout my career, I have taken countless legal and legislative actions to protect the environment because far too often, the negative impacts of an unhealthy planet are not shared equally,” said Attorney General James. “We cannot talk about Earth Day and climate change without first talking about the disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable communities. That’s why it has been important for me to address critical issues for downstate communities, such as childhood lead poisoning in New York City rental housing and contaminated drinking water on Long Island. This Earth Day, I remain committed to supporting and protecting our communities through critical environmental actions, both in New York and across the nation.”
Attorney General James has taken a number of actions in the New York City and Long Island regions to address key climate, environmental, and public safety concerns. For example:
- Attorney General James, leading a coalition of 15 attorneys general and the City of New York recently took legal action to support the Biden Administration’s remedy of numerous deficiencies in the risk evaluation for the widely-prevalent, highly-toxic chemical 1,4-dioxane. The risk evaluation — which was one of numerous “midnight” anti-environmental actions taken by the former administration in its waning days — minimizes or dismisses 1,4-dioxane’s dangers to workers, residents of low-income communities, and the general public. As such, the evaluation attempts to restrict EPA from implementing regulatory measures that would the eliminate substantial health risks posed by 1,4-dioxane. The New York Public Interest Research Group reports that at least 12 million New Yorkers drink water contaminated with some level of the highly-toxic chemical1,4-dioxane. In particular, 1,4-dioxane has been detected in Long Island’s groundwater, which is the sole source of drinking water for almost 3 million state residents.
- In February 2020, Attorney General James brought a lawsuit against Chestnut Holdings of New York, Inc., a property management corporation, for failing to comply with provisions of New York City’s lead poisoning prevention law. The suit alleges that Chestnut Holdings has engaged in violations of the New York City Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act, which requires property owners to take several critical measures to prevent children under six from being exposed to lead-based paint. Chestnut Holdings manages more than 6,000 apartments in approximately 134 buildings, most of which are located in the Bronx.
On a statewide basis, some examples of notable actions taken by Attorney General James include:
- Continuing to hold accountable those responsible for the contamination of PFAS — so-named “forever chemicals” because of the super-resistance to breakdown in the environment. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is currently litigating a landmark lawsuit against the makers of PFAS-containing firefighting foam products for the contamination caused by the use of their products and the creation of a public nuisance. This lawsuit seeks to recover at least $51 million in costs incurred by the state in the cleanup of the dangerous chemicals released into the environment at several military bases, civilian airports, and other sites in New York.
- Assisting in implementing New York’s Climate Law. In 2019, New York enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), the most ambitious clean energy and climate law in the nation. The new law requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and no less than 85 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. The law creates a Climate Action Council — and Climate Justice and Just Transition Working Groups — charged with developing a scoping plan of recommendations to meet these targets and place New York on a path toward carbon neutrality, in manner that ensures all New Yorkers secure the economic and environmental benefits of the renewable energy economy. The OAG is actively engaged in assisting agencies with the implementation of CLCPA to ensure it meets its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and fostering a just and equitable transition to a green economy in New York.
For four years of the Trump Administration — and particularly in its final year — Attorney General James was a national leader in countering the former administration’s relentless, reckless, and illegal efforts to eliminate critical safeguards on which individuals, families, and communities in New York depend. Examples of recent federal environmental actions taken by OAG that are benefiting New Yorkers include:
- Forcing action on smog pollution. In October 2019, Attorney General James filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to abide by its legal responsibility under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to ensure upwind sources of pollution do not continue to create unhealthy smog in New York. The lawsuit followed EPA’s denial of a petition filed by New York that cited the Agency’s legal responsibility under the CAA to control emissions of upwind pollution sources. Smog is a serious and persistent public health problem in New York, where more than two-thirds of the public regularly breathes air that is polluted with smog. In July 2020, a federal appeals court sided with Attorney General James and overturned EPA rejection of New York’s petition to curb smog pollution from upwind sources. The court directed EPA to do its job in addressing upwind pollution emissions that impede New York’s ability to attain and maintain health standards for smog. Last month, EPA issued a rule proposing to further limit pollution from upwind sources.
- Challenging Trump EPA’s “Dirty Power” rule. In August 2019, Attorney General James led a coalition of 23 attorneys general and eight local governments, in a lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s EPA over its “Dirty Power” rule. The rule replaced the Clean Power Plan, the first-ever nationwide limit on one of the largest sources of climate change pollution — existing fossil-fueled power plants. The Trump Administration rule rolled back these limits and would have had virtually no impact on these emissions, prolonging the nation’s reliance on polluting, expensive coal power plants and obstructing states’ progress towards clean, renewable, and affordable electricity generation. In a major win in the fight against climate change, a federal appeals court in January 2021 agreed with Attorney General James and her coalition that the repeal was unlawful, and vacated the Dirty Power Rule ensuring that this unjust and illegal rule will no longer see the light of day.
- Protecting Migratory Birds. In January 2021, Attorney General James led a coalition of 12 states in suing over a Trump Administration Department of Interior (DOI) rule narrowing the scope of protections for migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by eliminating liability of the oil and gas industry and others for killing birds, as a result of oil spills, electrocution, and pesticide poisoning, among other things. Attorney General James had previously led a coalition of eight states in successfully convincing a federal court to set aside the legal basis for that narrowing, but the Trump DOI ignored that ruling and proceeded to formalize it into regulation. In March 2021, the Biden DOI agreed with Attorney General James and withdrew the basis of the rule — the Trump-era determination that the MBTA is inapplicable to incidental (non-purposeful) killing of migratory birds. More than 320 species of birds regularly migrate through, nest, or winter in New York. New York hosts 4.1 million birdwatchers and a $4.2 billion birdwatching and wildlife watching industry.
According to the New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, since 2017, OAG has been a leader in taking legal actions against federal agencies on issues related to the environment. In recent years, the OAG has taken over 240 significant regulatory and legal actions — and over 70 actions in 2020 alone — in opposition to the former administration’s concerted, across-the-board drive to undermine many of our nation’s bedrock health, safety, and environmental laws.