Q&A: NYU Law Opens Center to Help AGs Fight EPA Rollbacks


Staff Photo by Renee Yang

NYU Law will be opening a State Energy and Environmental Impact Center to aid attorneys in response to Trump’s environmental protection rollbacks.

Sierra Jackson, News Editor

Following the creation of the Immigrant Defense Initiative in January 2017 to aid NYU students and staff affected by President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, a new center at the NYU School of Law is now taking up another fight against Trump administration policies — deterring rollbacks of environmental regulations.  

NYU Law announced in an Aug. 17 press release that it will be opening the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center to help U.S. attorneys general from all parties combat the Trump Administration’s rollbacks of environmental protections. The center’s advisory council will be chaired by NYU’s Lawrence King Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus Richard Revesz, according to the center’s website. David Hayes — former deputy secretary and chief operating officer at the Department of the Interior for former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, respectively — will serve as the center’s executive director.

Washington Square News spoke with Hayes to further explore the galvanizing effect the Environmental Protection Agency’s changes have had on attorneys general, the center’s long term goals, and how NYU students can help.

Washington Square News: Were there any specific events that spurred the creation of this new center?

David Hayes: I don’t think there were any specific events that led to it. There’s been obviously a general concern about the Trump administration’s intense rollback of environmental protections. So it’s been a series of issues that have energized the attorneys general. And so this center is, in recognizing that many rollbacks are occurring, providing more support to the attorneys general.

WSN: Why did you personally decide to get involved with this project?

DH: I have spent my career working on environmental and natural resource and clean energy issues. I’m very concerned about the erosion of important protections and denial of climate change and the antipathy toward clean energy that we’re seeing from the [Trump] administration. And I view the attorneys general as a very important vehicle for stopping some of these reversals and helping draw attention to the seriousness of these issues.

WSN: What type of pushback, if any, do you think the center will face from the EPA, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt or anyone else involved in environmental decisions?

DH: Well, the attorneys general bring lawsuits that directly attack what the EPA is doing. And so, the pushback you’re going to see is an attempt to defend their position in court. We’ve already seen that. That’s what the judicial system is all about.

WSN: How would you define a legal victory for the center? For example, is it a victory if you win a case at the state level but you might have to participate in a similar case for another state? Or is a more definitive victory one at the federal level where you are possibly overturn or reimplement certain laws?

DH: The key is to fight on every front available against rollbacks of environmental protections. Along the way, it’s important that we draw attention to the rollbacks that the administration is attempting to undertake, and that we educate Americans about the threats that the administration’s actions pose to our shared environmental values. This is an across the board effort, without looking for individual victories here or there. We’re looking to defend broad swaths of American values.

WSN: What role will NYU School of Law students have at the center?

DH: Well, we’re looking forward to providing some opportunities for NYU Law students to help us in our work. So there will be opportunities. We’re just getting started now. But NYU Law students are tremendously helpful in this sort of thing, and I’m looking forward to working with some of them. 

WSN: Do you think in the future that the center will work with NYU student activism organizations, like Earth Matters and other groups along those lines?

DH: I don’t know. Our primary goal is to work with the attorneys general, and we are very much in a support role to them. So they are our primary government officials who we’re dedicated to working with. I don’t know about our ability to have resources or ability to work with other groups — I don’t know those groups. Our primary role is to help attorney generals who are uniquely capable of responding to these environmental threats through the legal system.

Correction Aug. 30, 2017: The first paragraph has been edited to reflect that NYU School of Law as an institution is not challenging Trump administration policies, although some individuals and departments of the school may be. A previous version of this article stated, “the NYU School of Law is now taking up another fight against the Trump administration.”

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 27 print edition. Email Sierra Jackson at [email protected].