Biden Appeals Court Ruling on Social Cost of Carbon

Biden Appeals Court Ruling on Social Cost of Carbon

Earlier this month, Trump-appointed US District Judge James Cain of Louisiana blocked the Biden Administration from considering the impacts of climate change (the "social cost of carbon") when it comes to fossil fuel drilling on public land.

On Saturday night, the Biden Administration filed an appeal that paused all projects where the government applied the social cost of carbon. For environmentalists, it's a win-win. While the Administration fights for the social metric in the courts, new fossil projects are put into limbo.

Resources for the Future: Unpacking the Social Cost of Carbon, March 30, 2021.

Why This Matters

It's crucial to accurately assess the impacts of climate change if we're going to curb global warming. The social cost of carbon aims to do just that. The Trump Administration set this figure as low as $1 per metric ton to encourage drilling, but on his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order that would reassess the social cost of carbon, and in the meantime, set it at the pre-2017 $51 per ton. The battle to define the social cost of carbon is a major factor in determining whether the US will reach its net-zero goals.

Reuters: 2021 saw jump in greenhouse-gas emissions, says report, January 10, 2022.

What Next?

"The consequences of the injunction are dramatic," the Biden Administration's filing states. "Pending rulemakings in separate agencies throughout the government -- none of which were actually challenged here -- will now be delayed. Other agency actions may now be abandoned due to an inability to redo related environmental analyses in time to meet mandatory deadlines."

This ruling could have consequences not just for oil drilling in the US, but also for international climate diplomacy, where discussions rely on the social cost of carbon.

Richard Revesz, who directs the Institute for Policy Integrity at the NYU School of Law, told the Washington Post that in recent years, this ruling was "one of the most aggressive and ill-founded administrative law opinions." He added, "I don’t know how a court could tell a president that the executive branch cannot estimate the harm of a pollutant. It's like saying, 'Im sorry, the executive branch cannot study whether something is a carcinogen.'"

Now This: Why Resuming Oil and Gas Leasing is Bad for the Environment, October 24, 2021.