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New York State sues EPA over regulations rollback

The Trump administration is facing another legal challenge from New York State.

Attorney General Letitia James, as she often does, is taking the administration to court, this time over its temporary rollback of environmental regulations.

As part of a coalition of nine attorney generals, she is accusing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of using the Covid-19 pandemic to illegally relax clean air and water rules.

“The Trump Administration can not give industries the green light to ignore critical environmental and public health laws, especially during a public health crisis,” James said in a statement Wednesday. “The EPA’s non-enforcement policy puts our already damaged public health in danger by freely allowing pollution from big corporations."

James filed the federal court lawsuit after weeks of pressure from elected officials, including Rep. Brian M. Higgins of Buffalo, as well as environmental and community groups across the state.

"Attorney General James has shown that New Yorkers will not stand for the Trump administration’s callous disregard for the health and dignity of our communities," Emily Terrana, an organizer for the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, said Wednesday in a prepared statement.

She also called it a "historic day for all environmental justice communities throughout the nation who have long dealt with abuse, neglect and harm caused by corporations who put their profit lines over public health."

The EPA's decision to relax environmental rules followed a barrage of requests for relief from companies dealing with economic hardship because of the pandemic.

There are more than 350 Western New York companies and facilities regulated by the EPA. The agency's action means factories, chemical plants, public water supplies and others will decide for themselves if they are violating federal clean air and water standards.

The EPA also made it clear it does not intend to fine violators during this temporary period.

Higgins has warned that the rollback could imperil the cleanup of the Buffalo River, which has been considered an environmental success story.

New York's lawsuit acknowledges the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic but claims the EPA never considered if its actions might worsen public health.

It also argues that the EPA lacks the authority to waive important monitoring and reporting regulations that keep authorities and the public informed of pollution risks.

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