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

Feb. 13: AG Dana Nessel may review Michigan minimum wage, sick leave law
Dec. 14: Snyder signs bills that weaken Michigan minimum wage, sick leave law
Related: In one month, Dana Nessel erases many of Bill Schuette’s federal pursuits
Related: Michigan Democratic leaders Whitmer, Nessel and Benson working in concert

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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