Dana Nessel moves to drop Michigan from suits fighting EPA clean air rules

Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Tuesday that her office is moving to drop Michigan from four multistate lawsuits challenging federal Environmental Protection Agency air regulations. She is pictured here at a press conference about the Line 5 oil pipeline. (Bridge photo by Jim Malewitz)

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Attorney General Dana Nessel is moving to drop Michigan from four lawsuits her predecessor joined against federal Environmental Protection Agency air regulations.

Nessel, a Democrat, announced Tuesday her office has filed motions to remove Michigan from multi-state lawsuits joined by former Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, that challenge Obama-era EPA rules to:

  • Curb emissions of mercury and other air toxics;
  • Limit greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change from existing coal-fired power plants — known as the “Clean Power Plan.”
  • Limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants;
  • Limit methane emissions from oil fields that are linked to climate change.

“Michigan will not be a party to lawsuits that challenge the reasonable regulations aimed at curbing climate change and protecting against exposure to mercury and other toxic substances,” Nessel said in a statement.

President Donald Trump has since sought to undo Obama’s regulations, complicating the litigation.

Environmental advocates applauded Nessel’s move.

“Michigan never had any business joining coal companies in suing the federal government over policies that protect our air and water from dangerous pollution,” Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement Tuesday.

“Attorney General Nessel’s decision sends a clear and timely message: It’s time for state leaders to take action on climate change and protect our air, land and water from toxic pollution generated by dirty coal-fired power plants.”

In contrast, Schuette called the Obama-era regulations “job-killing,” unconstitutional and overly expensive and burdensome for industry.

Schuette’s involvement in the lawsuits became an issue in his unsuccessful  gubernatorial campaign against Democratic Gretchen Whitmer, as critics alleged he was protecting polluters.

Schuette was the lead plaintiff in a case challenging Obama’s mercury and air toxics rule, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Michigan and 20 other states without the support of then Gov. Rick Snyder, a fellow Republican.

A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered EPA to reconsider the rule because it had failed properly to weigh the costs of the measure versus its benefits.

But in 2016, the high court declined to intervene in a lower court ruling in the case that upheld EPA standards. By that time, Michigan’s utilities were already shutting down coal plants and turning to cleaner sources of energy.

The mercury and air toxics case that Nessel left had its roots in the case Schuette filed. The lawsuit challenged an EPA finding that regulating power plants under a specific Clean Air Act provision remained “appropriate and necessary.”  

Nessel’s move comes as Michigan is rapidly shifting away from coal-fired power, a fuel that once dominated the state’s energy mix.

In 2016, coal-fired plants provided just 36 percent of the state’s electricity, down from about 50 percent two years before.

Since 2010, Michigan utilities have retired at least 26 coal generators at 15 power plants, according to a Bridge analysis.

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Vince Caruso
Tue, 01/22/2019 - 8:50pm

Great, keep up the great work. MI has lots to gain with a strong EPA. Just look at some of the most valuable assets we have. Clean water and clean air, and a healthy population, Pure Michigan!

Alex Sagady
Wed, 01/23/2019 - 12:37am

This action to withdraw Michigan as a plaintiff in the named actions is
litigation damage control, not affirmative advocacy for the Obama Administration
rules that Bill Schuette previously challenged.

In order to actually make Michigan a defender of the subject EPA rules,
Michigan AG Nessel would have to petition each court involved to file
as a defendant-respondant and either join other state's briefs in defense
of the rules or to author Nessel's own briefs in defense of the rules.

The actions to withdraw the State of Michigan as parties does not
take any such affirmative litigation action to defend the 4 Obama-era rules.

Doing so would take additional moves and initiatives not yet announced by AG Dana Nessel.

Thu, 01/24/2019 - 5:11pm

It's a shame that the vast majority of government officials have no clue as to ACG (look it up). After spending much time contacting 40+US Congressional energy staffers and the climate scientist for the NRDC, I did not find one 'expert' who could answer the most basic questions re
ACG. The worst was Senator Levin's energy staffer who swore that CO2 is 40% of the atmosphere. A notable quote from the past chair of the US House energy committee, Henry Waxman, was "I don't care if trees need CO2-we need to get rid of it". These are the none scientific people making decisions for us. I do have multiple science degrees and I encourage you all to read both sides of the issues and then have an informed opinion.

Carol Ottinger
Tue, 01/22/2019 - 10:43pm

Good for her. Without the EPA, our world would fall to ruin. Democrats will bring about some much needed common sense.

Geoffrey Owen
Thu, 01/24/2019 - 11:39am

The people of Michigan have sent a very big message to Lansing.