The Biden administration’s climate plans have one less constraint after a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stayed a Louisiana District Court’s order preventing agencies from considering the social cost of carbon.
“In its decision, the unanimous three-judge panel wrote that the government was likely to prevail in the end because the suing states could not show they had been harmed and so lacked standing to bring the case,” reports the Washington Post.
The social cost of carbon (SCC)—which “puts a number on how much damage a tonne of carbon dioxide emitted today will do in the future, in order to show how much a given climate policy would benefit the economy in the long run,” says Undark Magazine—is used by federal agencies for rulemaking related to environmental issues like drilling permits and assessing flood risks. The Trump administration had previously changed the $37 per ton value set during the Obama era to between $1 to $7 per ton.
Upon entering office, President Biden restored by executive order, and adjusted for inflation, the Obama administration’s SCC to a value of $51 per ton. Biden’s action prompted a group of Republican-led states to sue the federal government. They argued Biden did not have authority to make the change without public consultation, and that “by altering the cost-benefit analysis, the president had dealt a blow to their states’ economies, which depend heavily on the extraction of oil, gas and coal,” the Post writes.
In a ruling issued last February, Louisiana Judge James D. Cain Jr. agreed with the plaintiffs and issued an order restraining federal agencies from using Biden’s SCC, which sent agencies scrambling to redo analyses in major decisions that relied on the higher value and brought the climate rulemaking process to a halt, reports the Post. In response, the Biden administration delayed decisions on new oil and gas drilling on federal land.
But the 5th Circuit lifted the ban after finding that the injuries states were claiming in the lawsuit were “merely hypothetical.” The recent ruling offers “a temporary reprieve for President Biden’s plans to tackle climate change” and allows agencies to again proceed with the $51 per ton value to calculate damages from emissions.
“Today’s decision by the 5th Circuit sent a strong message that the rule of law cannot be short-circuited to score political victories,” said Hana Vizcarra, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice. “It puts the government back on track to address and assess climate change.”
The ruling also raises questions about whether the administration will resume processing new oil and gas drilling decisions after the delay announced following Judge Cain’s order, writes the Post.