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An ExxonMobil oil refinery is pictured in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo: Barry Lewis/InPictures via Getty Images)

'Common-Sense Decision': Court Allows Biden to Weigh Social Cost of Carbon

The decision to block a Trump-appointed judge's order "puts the government back on track to address and assess climate change," said one climate advocate.

Jake Johnson

Environmentalists applauded late Wednesday after a federal appeals court blocked a Trump-appointed judge's order barring the Biden administration from considering the future costs of climate damage in its rulemaking and public projects.

"When it comes to the climate, Biden can't continue business as usual."

In March 2021, a coalition of 10 Republican attorneys general sued the Biden administration over a White House directive instructing federal agencies to factor the "social cost of greenhouse gases" into their policymaking decisions, from new pollution regulations to drilling on public lands.

Last month, a federal judge in Louisiana sided with the Republicans, issuing a sweeping injunction prohibiting the Biden administration from factoring the cost of carbon—which it pegged at $51 per ton—into its policy moves. The Trump administration, by contrast, contended that each ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere in 2020 would only cause roughly $1 to $7 in economic damages.

The Wednesday ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stayed the Louisiana judge's injunction, allowing the Biden administration to continue using the $51-per-ton metric—a figure based on Obama-era assessments that some researchers and climate advocates say don't account for the full scope of emissions damage.

One recent analysis estimated that the actual social cost of carbon dioxide—from negative health impacts to destroyed homes—is at least 15 times the number adopted by the Biden administration.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said in a statement that "this common-sense decision simply allows the government to continue its usual consideration of the costs of climate damage."

"But we need a lot more than that from the Biden administration," Siegel added. "When it comes to the climate, Biden can't continue business as usual. He has to meet this international crisis with bold executive action that speeds the transition to renewable energy and away from dangerous fossil fuels."

Last month, in response to the Louisiana judge's injunction, the Biden administration temporarily suspended the approval process for new drilling leases on public lands and waters. Prior to the pause, the Biden administration had approved more permits for new oil and gas drilling on public lands than the Trump administration did during its first year in power.

The Washington Post reported that the federal appeals court's ruling Wednesday "raises questions about whether Biden officials will restart federal oil and gas leasing." The administration is facing fresh pressure from congressional Republicans, right-wing Democrats, and the fossil fuel industry to ramp up domestic oil production amid fears of a supply shortage caused by Russia's assault on Ukraine.

"Last month, the Interior Department delayed decisions on new drilling, including a large lease sale of more than 170,000 acres in Wyoming that had been planned for this spring," the Post noted. "An Interior Department spokesperson said officials are reviewing the [appeals court's] decision."

Hana Vizcarra, an attorney for Earthjustice, said in a statement Wednesday that the federal court's ruling "sent a strong message that the rule of law cannot be short-circuited to score political victories."

"It puts the government back on track to address and assess climate change," Vizcarra added.


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