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States cut environmental budgets as attorneys general fought federal rollbacks

Some states decreased financial support or staffing levels for their own agencies' pollution control programs in 2018 compared to a decade prior even as attorneys general for 28 states stepped up their efforts to slow the pace of environmental regulatory rollbacks under the Trump administration, according to two new reports.

Since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, more than two dozen state attorneys general have taken at least 300 actions related to defending federal and state environmental regulations and laws, including those related to tackling climate change, according to a Dec. 9 report by the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at New York University School of Law.

The actions have included challenging rulemakings in courts, testifying in Congress or filing comments in a regulatory proceeding. The issues the attorneys general have weighed in on have included safety and toxic chemicals, public lands and wildlife, clean energy, energy efficiency, clean air, clean water and climate change.

Within the past few months alone, state attorneys general have filed court actions challenging the legality of the Trump administration’s replacement of the Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy, or ACE, rule and the administration's revocation of California's waiver to set its own clean car standards.

"As the Trump administration pursues an agenda of watering down or outright repealing clean energy, climate, environmental, and health and safety rules, state attorneys general have served as a critical first line of defense," the New York University report said.

But some of those very states made major cuts to funding state-level environmental agencies in 2018 compared to 2008, according to a Dec. 5 report by The Environmental Integrity Project. The report found that 31 states in the lower 48 had reduced funding for their environmental agencies' pollution control program. Also, 40 states have cut staffing levels at their environmental agencies for an overall total of 4,400 positions eliminated.

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The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has lost almost a third of its staff over the last decade even as the state's attorney general office has been among the most active on environmental issues, according to the reports. And while the office of the attorney general for Illinois has been the eighth-most environmentally active attorney general, the state cut its environmental agency workforce by 38%.

Only one state, California, grew the staff at its environmental agency by more than 10%, the Environmental Integrity Project found.

Not all attorneys general have pushed back against the Trump administration. For instance, lawyers representing seven states and two auto industry trade groups in October sided with the Trump administration in its legal battle with California over clean car rules.