Megan Butler

(CN) — Republican attorney generals from 21 states filed a lawsuit Thursday against President Joe Biden, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration for issuing a rule requiring states to establish targets for reducing on-road carbon dioxide emissions.

Filed in the Western District Court of Kentucky, the states claim that the executive agencies lack the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or to compel states to administer a federal regulatory program.

The plaintiff states include Kentucky, South Dakota, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

They say that the agencies claimed authority under the "2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act," which was created to establish performance standards for managing bridges and paved roads on interstates, but interpreted the term "performance" to include "environmental performance" in order to further executive goals.

The regulations, announced by the Federal Highway Administration last month, are part of the Biden administration's efforts to reduce national emissions, as transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

While federal officials claim the rule simply adds to existing National Highway System performance measures and standards, the Republican states argue it is "arbitrary and capricious."

Since the Obama administration, Democratic officials and environmental groups have been advocating for states to track emissions and set reduction targets as a way to monitor how state transportation agencies affect Americans' means of travel and its environmental impact.

But others, such as Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, argue the reality of achieving "net-zero" greenhouse emissions means "drastic changes" as most Americans still drive internal combustion engine cars and much of the country still relies heavily on coal for electricity.

Although there is no penalty for failing to achieve reductions, Cameron argues in the states' complaint that the rule requirements will affect "the American economy" by forcing states to "make choices about projects, contracts and regulations in order to meet the declining targets."

In the suit, Cameron adds that "any mandated decline in on-road CO2 emissions will disproportionately affect states with more rural areas," because rural residents tend to drive more miles per day than those living in urban areas.

"States with fewer metropolitan areas have fewer options available to them to reduce CO2. Many of the ideas for how states can decrease GHG emissions — congestion pricing, road pricing, ramp metering, increased coordination with transit and non motorized improvements, paying fees to scrap low mileage heavy duty vehicles — are options more conducive to metropolitan areas, not rural ones," Cameron wrote.

"Low population densities limit the efficacy of public transit and congestion pricing as options that would reduce vehicle miles traveled and, consequently, CO2 emissions," he added.

The filing comes just two days after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a similar suit against the U.S. Transportation Department, calling for the rule to be vacated. Texas was the country's largest producer of carbon dioxide in 2021, producing 13.5% of the nation's total emissions, according to Choose Energy’s August analysis of data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said in a press release, “Florida will not sit idly by while the Biden Administration tries to force the Green New Deal into existence through the U.S. Department of Transportation. Florida will always fight for freedom and against the federal government’s unlawful efforts to control the American people.”