An appeals court overturned a lower court ruling that barred the Biden administration from using a key climate accounting metric in regulations and other decisions.
The Biden administration uses values known as the “social costs” of global warming gases to quantify the climate costs or benefits of actions it takes.
Last year, the administration temporarily reinstated preliminary estimates based on Obama-era figures, which gave more weight to climate impacts than Trump-era estimates. It also convened an interagency working group to calculate updated estimates.
In February, Trump-appointed Judge James Cain blocked the Biden administration to use the values he had imposed on himself after several Republican-run states challenged him. The red states had argued that they would be harmed if these values resulted in lower fossil fuel production – and less revenue for the states.
But a panel of 5th Circuit judges on Wednesday ended Cain’s preliminary injunction, saying the states’ claims are largely hypothetical, stemming from potential regulations that could arise rather than actual damages.
“The plaintiff states’ claims are based on a widespread grievance of the use of preliminary estimates in cost-benefit analyzes of regulation and agency action,” the opinion states.
“But their alleged harm does not stem from the preliminary estimates themselves, it stems from any future, speculative and unknown regulations that may impose increased burdens on them and may result,” the panel added.
When the Biden administration appealed Cain’s injunction, which both prevented it from using the interim value and prevented the interagency group from working, it argued that Cain’s order hampered a wide range of government activities.
He told the court that the ruling suspended nearly 40 regulations and nearly 90 environmental reviews that relied on values to determine the damage or benefit certain actions would have on the climate.
Hana Vizcarra, senior attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, called the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “a good, strong message that you can’t bypass the rule of law to win political victories.”
But Cain will still review the case the States brought against the Biden administration and issue a decision on the merits at a later date. In the meantime, while the case unfolds, the administration can continue to use its climate metric.