Orrick State Attorneys General Newsletter – January 2022

January.28.2022

  1. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey Announces Run for Governor
  2. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to Retire
  3. Attorney General Raoul Sues Company for Alleged Violations of Water Quality from Discharge of PFAS
  4. State Attorneys General Issue Comments to FCC to Stop International Scam Calls
  5. State AGs Settle with Student-Loan Company for $1.85 Billion
  6. State AGs Line Up on Opposite Sides in Case Deciding Authority of EPA to Issue CO2 Regulations
  7. State AGs Send Comment Letter to FERC Opposing Proposed Regulations on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

1. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey Announces Run for Governor 

As widely anticipated, Massachusetts Attorney General Healey formally announced she will run for governor in 2022. General Healey’s decision will likely mean a crowded Democratic primary. Already, Quentin Palfrey has announced he will run for attorney general, and labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan has also announced her run for attorney general, among others. Filing for the office closes on May 31; the primary election will be held September 20.

2. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to Retire 

The longest-serving attorney general in North Dakota’s history, Wayne Stenehjem, announced his retirement. General Stenehjem was first elected in 2000 and, before that, served for 24 years in the North Dakota Legislature. He is well known and highly regarded for working in a collegial, bipartisan manner, and he noted the declining civility in American politics as one reason for his retirement.

3. Attorney General Raoul Sues Company for Alleged Violations of Water Quality from Discharge of PFAS 

Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced his office has filed a complaint against a company that operates a coal-mining operation in Illinois for allegedly violating the Illinois Environmental Protection Act by discharging per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into waters near one of its mines. The complaint alleges the pollution is the result of the company using firefighting foam containing PFAS to extinguish an underground fire that erupted at its mine facility in August 2021.

The company was issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit that authorized the company to discharge wastewater from specified outfalls at its mining facility, subject to limitations. The complaint alleges that the permit did not allow the company to discharge the PFAS chemicals. The complaint seeks an order requiring the company to take corrective action to stop future discharges of PFAS, along with civil penalties of up to $50,000 for each violation and an additional $10,000 in civil penalties for each day the violation continues.

4. State Attorneys General Issue Comments to FCC to Stop International Scam Calls 

Fifty-one state attorneys general signed onto a letter urging the FCC to increase its efforts to stop international scam calls.

Ultimately, the attorneys general are asking the FCC to require gateway providers to reduce robocalls, by:

  • Responding to requests by law enforcement, the FCC, or state attorneys general to trace calls within 24 hours;
  • Blocking illegal or likely fraudulent calls;
  • Blocking calls coming from “do not originate” lists (such as government phone numbers that are for incoming calls only); and
  • Ensuring foreign telephone company partners enforce a mandate that calls be made from legitimate numbers.

5. State AGs Settle with Student-Loan Company for $1.85 Billion 

Attorneys general from 39 states reached a $1.85 billion settlement with student-loan processing company Navient for alleged violations of state unfair and deceptive acts and practices statutes by allegedly pushing borrowers to take out loans that they could not afford and neglecting to counsel borrowers about more affordable repayment options. 

The settlement agreement requires the company to cancel the remaining balance on more than 65,000 accounts, amounting to more than $1.7 billion in subprime student loan balances. In addition, $95 million will go to about 350,000 federal student loan borrowers who received higher loan balances after their accounts were put in forbearance for two consecutive years (which amounts to about $260 per borrower). The settlement also includes conduct reforms, requiring Navient to explain the benefits of certain repayment plans and “to offer to estimate income-driven payment amounts before placing borrowers into optional forbearance.” Other reforms require Navient to change its customer service practices and advisement services.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a separate, ongoing lawsuit against Navient with claims that are similar to those brought by the state attorneys general.

6. State AGs Line Up on Opposite Sides in Case Deciding Authority of EPA to Issue CO2 Regulations 

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument next month in a case concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants in the states. Led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, 18 Republican Attorneys General filed an appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which struck down the Trump administration’s decision to repeal the 2015 Clean Power Plan and replace it with the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule. The Republican AGs argue that the Court of Appeals employed a “rarely used” provision of the Clean Air Act to grant the EPA “unlimited” power to decarbonize almost any sector of the economy. 

Led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, 21 states and the District of Columbia filed an amicus brief supporting the EPA. In their brief, the state AGs argue that in repealing the Clean Power Plan and replacing it with the new ACE rule, the Trump administration relied on an “erroneous interpretation” of Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, which would limit the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other stationary sources.

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument on February 28; its decision is expected sometime in late spring or early summer.

7. State AGs Send Comment Letter to FERC Opposing Proposed Regulations on Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

Led by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, 19 states submitted comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding its proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new natural gas projects. The states argue that FERC does not have statutory authority to regulate greenhouse gases and that the proposed regulations unlawfully infringe upon the states’ authority to regulate “so-called ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ impacts of the consumption of natural gas.”