Opinion

MAURA HEALEY

Mass. leadership on climate more vital than ever

DENNIS, MA - FEBRUARY 13: Waves crash over a seawall onto a road due to a storm surge and high winds after a winter storm February 13, 2017 in Dennis, Massachusetts. Another winter storm has brought heavy snow and wind to the region. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Scott Eisen/Getty Images/File
Waves crashed over a sea wall during a storm surge in February in Dennis.

TEN YEARS AGO, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, along with two dozen states and allied groups, won a landmark case in the US Supreme Court against the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. In Massachusetts v. EPA, the court ruled on April 2, 2007, that the agency had the authority — and the duty, consistent with scientific evidence — to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Justice John Paul Stevens, who had been nominated to the court by President Gerald Ford, wrote the opinion. He was joined in the majority by justices nominated by presidents of both parties.

The case laid the foundation for the EPA under President Obama to limit pollution from vehicles, oil and gas infrastructure, and new and existing power plants. These rules mean more efficient cars, healthier air quality, and lower electric bills. And, make no mistake, the American people want action on climate: seven in 10 Americans support limiting carbon pollution from coal, three-quarters support regulating carbon dioxide emissions more broadly, nearly 80 percent support increasing fuel economy standards, and clean energy options like energy efficiency, wind, solar, and electric vehicles have never been more popular or cost-effective.

Last week, President Trump took steps to threaten that progress and dismantle the important work of the previous administration, including rules to reduce harmful emissions from power plants and increase the mileage we get from gasoline. On March 28, he ordered his agencies to rescind, withdraw, or eliminate many federal climate policies, including the power plant rules. State attorneys general, myself included, are preparing to fight in court to stop these administration rollbacks, but litigating alone won’t be enough. With a president and an EPA administrator beholden to the fossil fuel industry and who outright deny the existence of climate change, the states must continue to lead and safeguard our future against this existential threat.

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The court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA was grounded in simple truths: Climate change is real, and we have a responsibility to do something about it. Even 10 years ago, sea level rise was eroding the Massachusetts coastline. The effects are even clearer today. Bigger, more intense storms have repeatedly slammed our infrastructure — along with our state and local budgets. In Boston and other coastal cities, the estimated costs of blocking storm surges from flooding whole neighborhoods have run into the billions. As global temperatures climb — 2016 was the world’s hottest year on record yet — we are experiencing more heat waves, shifting seasons, and worsening air quality, putting public health at greater risk. And that’s a particular concern in Massachusetts, where more than 12 percent of our children have asthma.

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That’s why, here in Massachusetts, our state’s Global Warming Solutions Act mandates reductions in climate pollution across our economy, and we’re moving forward with implementing the law. We’re also making transformative investments in clean energy, which are already saving consumers money by beating fossil fuels in the marketplace and have created more than 100,000 jobs in Massachusetts alone.

On this anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision, it is again up to states and cities to lead. That leadership, in courts, legislatures, and communities across the country, is more important than ever.

Maura Healey is the attorney general of Massachusetts.