A federal judge on Friday blocked the Biden administration’s attempt to place greater emphasis on the potential harms of greenhouse gas emissions when creating rules for polluting industries.
U.S. District Judge James Cain of the Western District of Louisiana sided with Republican attorneys general for energy-producing states who said the administration’s action to raise the emissions cost estimate carbon emissions threatened to increase energy costs while decreasing state revenues from energy production.
The judge issued an injunction that prohibits the Biden administration from using the higher cost estimate, which assigns a monetary value to the damage caused by each additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
President Joe Biden, on his first day in office, restored the climate cost estimate to around $51 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions after the Trump administration reduced the figure to around $7 or less. per ton. Former President Donald Trump’s estimate only included damage felt in the United States compared to global damage captured in the higher estimates that were previously used under the Obama administration.
The estimate would be used to shape future rules for oil and gas drilling, automotive and other industries. Using a higher cost estimate would help justify reductions in global warming emissions, making the benefits more likely to outweigh the expense of complying with the new rules.
Known as the social cost of carbon, the damage figure uses economic models to capture the impacts of rising sea levels, recurring droughts and other consequences of climate change. The $51 estimate was first set in 2016 and used to justify major rules such as the Clean Power Plan – former President Barack Obama’s flagship effort to tackle climate change by tightening standards emissions from coal-fired power plants – and separate rules imposing stricter vehicle emission standards. .
The Supreme Court blocked the Clean Power Plan before it even took effect, and a more lenient rule imposed by the Trump administration was later thrown out by a federal appeals court.
The carbon cost estimate had not yet seen much use under Biden, but is being considered in an ongoing environmental review of oil and gas lease sales in western states.
In Friday’s ruling, Cain wrote that using the climate damages figure in reviews of oil and gas leases would “artificially increase the cost of lease sales estimates” and cause direct harm to energy-producing states.
Economist Michael Greenstone, who helped establish the social cost of carbon while working in the Obama administration, said if the decision stands, it would signal that the United States is again unwilling to tackle climate change.
“The social cost of carbon guides the stringency of climate policy,” said the University of Chicago professor. “Setting it at near-zero Trump administration levels effectively removes all the teeth of climate regulation.”
Republican attorneys general led by Jeff Landry of Louisiana said the Biden administration’s relaunch of the higher estimate was illegal and beyond its authority in basing the figure on global considerations. Other states whose officials have sued include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Landry’s office released a statement calling Cain’s decision “a major victory for nearly every aspect of Louisiana’s economy and culture.”
“Biden’s executive order was an attempt by the government to seize power and tax the people based on winners and losers chosen by the government,” the statement said.
The White House referred questions to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.
Federal officials began developing climate damage cost estimates more than a decade ago after environmentalists successfully sued the government for failing to consider greenhouse gas emissions during the setting vehicle mileage standards, said Max Sarinsky, a professor at New York University School of Law.
Failing to take full account of carbon damage would distort any cost-benefit analysis of a proposed rule in favor of industry, he said, adding that the social cost of carbon had been “instrumental” in allowing agencies to accurately judge how their rules affect the climate.
“Without a proper climate impact assessment, it would complicate the agencies’ good faith efforts to draw reasoned conclusions,” Sarinsky said.
Last year, a federal judge in Missouri sided with the administration in a similar challenge from another group of Republican states. In that case, the judge said the Republicans lacked standing to bring their lawsuit because they had not yet suffered any harm under Biden’s order.
Friday’s decision by Cain, a Trump appointee, follows a ruling by another Louisiana judge last summer that overturned a separate attempt by Biden to tackle greenhouse gas emissions by suspending new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. The judge in that case, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, is also appointed by Trump.
In a sign of shifting policy on the issue, a federal judge in Washington has dismissed a Gulf of Mexico lease sale conducted largely in response to Doughty’s decision.
Obama-appointed U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras rejected the sale of the lease, saying the administration had failed to adequately consider its effect on greenhouse gas emissions.
Brown reported from Billings, Montana, and McGill from New Orleans.