BOSTON –Attorney General Maura Healey yesterday announced three separate actions taken by her office this week to protect students, consumers and the environment from rollbacks by the Trump administration.
The AG’s Office joined coalitions of states requesting to intervene in three federal cases, seeking to stop an accreditor of predatory, for-profit schools, defend the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and protect standards for reducing air pollution from heavy duty pickups, vans and tractor-trailer trucks.
Standing up for students
Today, AG Healey led a coalition of four states and the District of Columbia in filing a motion to intervene in a lawsuit to defend the Obama administration’s decision to terminate a national accrediting agency that facilitated abuse of student borrowers by predatory, for-profit schools.
The Accrediting Council for Colleges and Schools (ACICS) allowed predatory schools like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech to defraud students and secure hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue from federal student loans while issuing credentials with little to no educational value. ACICS filed a lawsuit in December 2016 in the District Court for the District of Columbia against the Secretary of Education and the DOE looking to maintain its authority to accredit for-profit schools.
In today’s motion to intervene in the litigation, state attorneys general – charged with enforcing state consumer protection laws to protect students from unfair and deceptive conduct and bringing civil enforcement actions against the most abusive institutions – argue that they rely on the expertise and judgment of federally recognized accreditors to police the quality of the majority of schools and colleges.
“ACICS’s accreditation failures are both systemic and extreme,” the state attorneys general wrote. “If ACICS is successful in its efforts to vacate the Secretary’s well-founded decision to terminate ACICS’s recognition as a federally recognized accreditor, the State Movants’ interests in protecting their students, ensuring the effectiveness of state regulations, and preserving finite state resources will be harmed.”
In April 2016, AG Healey led a group of 12 attorneys general in sending comments to the DOE that called out ACICS for its systemic failure to ensure program quality at certain for-profit institutions. This system failure includes ACICS’ decision to extend accreditation to schools like ITT Tech and Lincoln Technical Institute in Massachusetts, as well as several dozen schools nationwide operated by Corinthian Colleges until the day Corinthian declared bankruptcy.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Yael Shavit with the assistance of Division Chief Max Weinstein of AG Healey’s Consumer Protection Division.
Defending the CFPB
Joining a coalition of 16 other attorneys general, AG Healey filed a motion to intervene Monday in a federal appeals court case concerning the constitutionality of the term appointment for the director of the CFPB, and ensure that the Obama administration’s vigorous defense of the agency is continued even after the change in administrations.
The case – PHH Corporation, et al. v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In an October 2016 ruling, a divided court ruled that the restrictions on the President’s ability to remove the director of the CFPB to be unconstitutional. The CFPB filed a petition for rehearing of the decision before the entire D.C. Circuit, and that petition is currently pending before the court.
“The CFPB has been a critical partner to Massachusetts in protecting students, homeowners, the elderly, veterans, and all consumers against unfair, deceptive, and abusive financial practices and products,” AG Healey said. “My office and other states are joining together to protect the new consumer agency and the Wall Street Reform Act because the Trump administration has made it clear that it intends to weaken the agency.”
In today’s motion to intervene in the litigation, AG Healey argues that the court’s ruling, if permitted to stand, would undermine the power of state attorneys general to effectively protect consumers against abuse in the consumer finance industry, and significantly lessen the ability of the CFPB to withstand political pressure and act effectively and independently of the President.
Protecting the environment
Looking to preserve a federal program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and engines, AG Healey joined seven state attorneys general in intervening in challenges pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to emission standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In their motion filed on Monday, the attorneys general state they have substantial interests in strong, federal greenhouse gas emissions standards because such standards are needed – as part of broader efforts – to secure nationwide emissions reductions that are crucial to mitigate climate impacts that are already being experienced in their states. Any weakening or delay of federal standards would result in greater harms to the states’ natural resources, economies, and residents.
For years, the AG’s Office has been a leader in pursuing federal regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, including leading a coalition of states, in coordination with numerous environmental groups, in the landmark Supreme Court case of Massachusetts v. EPA.
In 2009, EPA found that greenhouse gas emissions qualify as “pollutants” for purposes of the Clean Air Act and needed to be regulated because they endangered public health and welfare. In 2011, EPA and NHTSA jointly issued the first national standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new medium- and heavy-duty engines and vehicles (i.e., trucks), covering model years 2014 to 2018.
The Phase 2 standards at issue in this case build on these protections beginning with the 2018 model year and establish standards for certain trailers used in combination with tractors for the first time.
“The Phase 2 Standards are an important component of broader efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector which, nationally, is the second largest contributor to those emissions,” the state attorneys general wrote.
According to the motion, because the vehicles sold under these standards will remain on the roads for years after their initial sale, these Phase 2 Standards are anticipated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions well beyond 2027, and are projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 150 million metric tons annually by 2040.
Assistant Attorney General Carol Iancu of AG Healey’s Environmental Protection is handling this case.
[From a News Release]