By Matthew Brown, Matthew Daly, and Kevin McGill
A federal judge on Friday blocked the Biden administration’s attempt to put greater emphasis on potential damage from 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 from energy producing states who said the administration’s action to raise the cost estimate of carbon emissions threatened to drive up energy costs while decreasing state revenues from energy production.
The judge issued an injunction that bars the Biden administration from using the higher cost estimate, which puts a dollar value on damages caused by every additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
President Joe Biden on his first day in office restored the climate cost estimate to about $51 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions after the Trump administration had reduced the figure to about $7 or less per ton. Former President Donald Trump’s estimate included only damages felt in the U.S. versus the global damages captured in higher estimates that were previously used under the Obama administration.
The estimate would be used to shape future rules for oil and gas drilling, automobiles, and other industries. Using a higher cost estimate would help justify reductions in planet-warming emissions, by making the benefits more likely to outweigh the expenses of complying with new rules.
Known as the social cost of carbon, the damage figure uses economic models to capture impacts from rising sea levels, recurring droughts and other consequences of climate change. The $51 estimate was first established in 2016 and used to justify major rules such as the Clean Power Plan — former President Barack Obama’s signature effort to address climate change by tightening emissions standards from coal-fired power plants — and separate rules imposing tougher vehicle emission standards.
Economist Michael Greenstone, who helped establish the social cost of carbon while working in the Obama administration, said if the ruling stands, it would signal the U.S. is again unwilling to confront climate change.
“The social cost of carbon guides the stringency of climate policy,” said the University of Chicago professor. “Setting it to near-zero Trump administration levels effectively removes all the teeth from climate regulations.”