US judge strikes down Biden climate damage cost estimate

Matthew Brown, Matthew Daly and Kevin Mcgill
Associated Press

Washington – A federal judge in Louisiana on Friday blocked the Biden administration’s move to increase the government’s cost estimate of future damages caused by greenhouse gas emissions, a key component of federal rules for oil and gas drilling, automobiles and other industries.

U.S. District Judge James Cain of the Western District of Louisiana sided with Republican attorneys general who challenged the administration’s actions, saying they threatened to drive up energy costs while decreasing state revenues from energy production. The judge issued an injunction that bars the 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 ordered an update to the climate cost estimate on his first day in office that restored it to about $51 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions, after the Trump administration had reduced the climate figure to about $7 per ton. Trump’s estimate included only damages felt in the U.S. versus the global damages captured under the higher estimate.

The Biden administration’s revival of a higher figure initially set under the Obama administration would make rules aimed at addressing climate change more economically justifiable. That’s because the benefits of reducing planet-warming emissions would be more likely to outweigh the expenses for industry to comply with new rules.

Known as the social cost of carbon, the rule uses economic models to capture damages caused by rising sea levels, recurring droughts and other consequences of climate change. The $51 estimate was first established in 2016 and was used to justify major rules such as the Clean Power Plan to tighten emissions standards from coal-fired power plants and separate rules imposing tougher vehicle emission standards.

The carbon cost estimate had not yet been used very much under Biden, but is being considered in a pending environmental review of oil and gas lease sales in western states.

Republican attorneys general led by Louisiana’s Jeff Landry said the Biden administration’s revival of the higher estimate was illegal and exceeded its authority by basing the figure on global considerations.

Landry’s office issued a statement calling Cain’s ruling “a major win for nearly every aspect of Louisiana’s economy and culture.”

“Biden’s executive order was an attempt by the government to take over 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.

A federal judge in Missouri last year had 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 yet to suffer any harm under Biden’s order.

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Brown reported from Billings, Montana, and McGill from New Orleans.