On Wednesday afternoon, UConn Reads and the Center for Energy and Environmental Law hosted a webcast discussion with Connecticut Attorney General William Tong about environmental law under the Biden administration and the importance of states being involved in the national climate dialogue.
Tong is the 25th attorney general to serve Connecticut, and the first Asian Pacific-American attorney general in Connecticut’s history. He took office on Jan. 9, 2019.
Tong first discussed the principle of federalism, where states are bound together to comprise the United States, but each state has the right to make its own decisions. He said that federalism is important in the area of environmental justice because people continue to wait for Congress and the federal government to act upon climate change.
“It’s up to us in the states to take action to protect ourselves, our states and our families,” Tong said.
He said that attorney generals are heavily involved in fighting many issues beyond environmental justice and climate change, such as immigration, the census, healthcare and the addiction crisis.
“Those are fights in which attorney generals are in the trenches every single day,” Tong said.
He brought an example of climate-related cases for environmental justice, citing cases from New York, Rhode Island and the city of Baltimore. At the moment, Connecticut has a case that Tong believes is the most important one.
Tong filed suit last year against ExxonMobil under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. Tong said the 8-count complaint alleges that ExxonMobil deceived people both locally and federally about climate change.
“They knew about climate change, they knew about sea level rise, they knew about rising temperatures,” Tong said. “For a long time, they talked about it and worked hard to confront it until the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when they made a concerted decision and effort to turn away from that science and willfully discredit climate science.”
Tong went on to discuss administrative law and its importance to the federal government. He said that many states have been involved in cases concerning administrative law. In particular, he cited how the federal government under the Trump administration has done a lot of damage to the country’s climate and environmental regulatory infrastructure.
“Because the Trump administration has tried to dismantle regulatory infrastructure of this country and to hollow out the EPA, I was just counting this morning, upwards of 175 deregulatng actions that have impaired the ability of the states to protect our citizens from the effects of climate change to protect clean air, clean water and a healthy environment,” Tong said.
As attorney general, Tong said it’s his responsibility to protect Connecticut’s environment and the state’s environmental priorities.
Following this, students who had previously prepared questions for Tong were welcomed into the discussion.
Students who had previously prepared questions were then welcomed into the discussion. They asked several questions about federalism, President Biden’s new policies, why Tong focuses on environmental issues and more.
One student asked about which of Biden’s policies Tong most looked forward to and how he expected them to affect the state.
“All of it is important,” Tong said.
There’s been so much damage done over the last four years, Tong said, that we’re going to be really focused on repairing a lot of it. He hopes to go through the law process in order to revert a lot of the damage done. However, he’s also looking forward to working with the Biden administration in holding large companies accountable for their role in climate change.
Another student later asked Tong about what drives his interest and passion for his work and why he focuses on environmental justice issues. He answered by saying that growing up as a child of immigrants in Hartford, he knows that urban communities and communities of color are the ones most affected by climate change and pollution.
Tong went on to discuss many of the changes he’s seen in the local fishing industry over the years. He talked about the collapse of the local lobster fishery and how the local sport fishing industry has faced issues with a collapsing population in Connecticut’s main sport fish, the striped bass.
“Environmental changes impact us in our everyday lives,” Tong said. “It means a lot to my family and me that these resources are being depleted.”