N.Y. Attorney General Exit Won’t Stall Rollbacks Fight: Democrats

By Gerald B. Silverman and Abby Smith

Democrats lost a chief crusader against Trump administration environmental rollbacks when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) abruptly resigned his post, but other state litigators and environmentalists are downplaying the impact of his exit.

“I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) told Bloomberg Environment in an interview.

Frosh is among several attorneys general that have frequently joined Schneiderman in lawsuits against regulatory rollbacks at the Environmental Protection Agency, Interior Department, and other agencies. He said the work is “like playing whack-a-mole” with the Trump administration “going after every environmental protection that exists it seems some days.”

“This work isn’t about one person. It’s about the dedicated women and men in Attorneys General’s Offices around the country who enforce the law and protect people’s rights,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) said in a statement to Bloomberg Environment. “That work continues.”

Schneiderman announced his resignation late May 7, effective the end of May 8, after a report surfaced in The New Yorker in which four women alleged he became physically and emotionally abusive while in romantic relationships. He contested the allegations but said they will “effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.”

Barbara Underwood, the state’s solicitor general since 2007, is serving as acting attorney general until the New York Legislature fills the position.

Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the Legislature, and they are expected to appoint another Democrat whose positions are closely aligned with Schneiderman’s until the general election is held in November. The state’s primary election is Sept. 13, and the filing deadline for candidates is July 12.

Leading Voice

Schneiderman earned the enmity of the political right for his aggressiveness in taking on the Trump administration. The conservative publication American Spectator called him “an anti-Trump zealot.”

On May 7, hours before The New Yorker’s story broke, Schneiderman led seven other attorneys general to call on the EPA to withdraw its plans to restrict the kinds of science the agency can use to make policy—or to extend the time for public input from 30 to 150 days.

Among the Trump policies that Schneiderman challenged—either on behalf of New York or as a leader of multi-state coalitions—are those concerning offshore drilling, methane emissions, Clean Water Act rules defining waters of the United States, cross-border air pollution from Midwest power plants and factories, Clean Power Plan rollbacks, federal standards for fuel efficiency in automobiles, and energy efficiency in appliances.

Schneiderman was also among the first state officials to investigate Volkswagen AG in 2015 for using technology to cheat air pollution tests adding to U.S. and California probes.

But Maryland’s Frosh said he expects New York to continue its leadership role with Underwood.

“And obviously other attorneys general, myself included, are prepared to step in if there’s more work that needs to be done,” Frosh added.

He pointed to Healey and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) as other leading voices on these issues.

‘Aggressive, Competent’ Staff

Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, told Bloomberg Environment he also doesn’t expect much change in the many multi-state lawsuits filed against the Trump administration.

Schneiderman “built up a staff of aggressive and competent assistant attorneys general,” Daniel Riesel, a principal in Sive, Paget & Riesel PC in New York City, told Bloomberg Environment. “Those are the guys that are doing the yeoman’s work.”

Investigators under Schneiderman turned up evidence that Rex Tillerson—who was then Exxon Mobil’s chief executive officer and went on to become President Donald Trump’s first secretary of state—had sent emails under the alias “Wayne Tracker” to comment on climate change issues.

—With assistance from John Herzfeld.