Metric sales

Feds predict NEPA delays after court strikes down climate metric

A judge’s order blocking the Biden administration’s enforcement of an interim climate measure will cause significant delays in the agency’s rule-making and block planned projects that require new environmental reviews, an official said. White House official this weekend.

Dominic Mancini, the deputy administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said a recent preliminary injunction barring the Biden administration from using an interim calculation of the social cost of greenhouse gas greenhouse could slow the finalization of at least 38 pending rules from four different agencies.

The decision would also affect dozens of pending agency analyzes — including those for federal oil and gas activities — leading to increased costs and greater uncertainty for the industry, Mancini said in a statement filed Saturday with of the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

“The cumulative burden of the preliminary injunction is quite significant,” he said.

Mancini later added, “[A]Agencies are expending considerable resources and delaying a myriad of regulatory actions while fully considering the implications of a changed scope of analysis.

Louisiana District Court Judge James Cain stunned legal observers last week when he issued an order blocking the Biden administration from using an interim measure of the social cost of carbon developed by an interagency task force (Energywire , February 14th).

The social cost of carbon assigns a monetary value to a metric ton of emissions and is used to assess the societal benefits of imposing stricter regulations on emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen oxides.

Cain rejected incorporating global emissions into the metric and sided with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) and other challengers’ arguments that the metric would cause harm by increasing state regulatory costs .

Justice Department attorneys said in a filing over the weekend that the federal government plans to challenge Cain’s decision in the 5th United States Circuit Court of Appeals.

The feds also asked Cain, a Trump pick, to prevent his decision from taking effect until Feb. 28. If the judge refuses to block his order on that date, DOJ attorneys said they would ask the 5th Circuit to intervene.

An initial tally of federal agencies revealed a far-reaching impact of Cain’s order, including on regulations being drafted in response to previous court orders that required more in-depth climate analysis.

“In some cases, the charges imposed by the preliminary injunction go well beyond delays and waste of resources,” Mancini said. “Agencies are now struggling to reconcile their conflicting obligations to comply with the Court’s order and the requirements of the [Administrative Procedure Act] and other relevant laws.

Delay for oil and gas

The scramble to comply with Cain’s decision could have far-reaching implications for the already contentious federal oil and gas programs run by the Department of the Interior, slowing leasing and, in some cases, new drilling.

The department’s preliminary review identified three outstanding rules and 27 analyzes mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act affected by Cain’s ruling.

These included environmental reviews for “several planned and potential oil and gas lease sales,” Mancini said.

The Interior has been preparing for a series of onshore oil and gas sales in several states since late last year. It would be the first land lease auctions from this administration, which instituted a moratorium on leases shortly after President Biden took office — until a separate federal lawsuit compels the Interior. to resume bidding.

The social cost of the carbon decision undermined these auctions.

In some cases, Mancini said, the Interior had already finalized its responses to comments on the scans and revised environmental assessments for planned sales of onshore oil and gas leases.

“[R]Revising NEPA’s analysis would be a cumbersome and time-consuming process for the BLM, and following these revisions, the Agency plans to then redistribute the revised analyzes for 30 days for public comment,” it said. he declares.

The Louisiana District Court injunction also halted the Bureau of Land Management’s work on drilling permit applications (DPAs) for 18 wells on oil and gas leases in New Mexico, according to court documents.

NEPA’s review for these DPAs would have used the now mandated carbon estimates.

“BLM is still evaluating how many other apps are similarly affected,” Mancini added.

An Interior spokesperson has confirmed that it expects delays in permits – the approval of individual oil and gas wells – as well as leasing of its oil and gas programs following the the court’s decision.

“The Department of the Interior continues to move forward with reforms to address significant shortcomings in the nation’s onshore and offshore oil and gas programs,” Interior Communications Director Melissa Schwartz said Saturday. in an email.

“Specifically, the Department is committed to ensuring that its programs consider climate impacts, provide a fair return to taxpayers, discourage speculation, hold operators accountable for remediation, and more fully include communities, tribal governments, state and local in decision-making,” the agency said.

The impacts of Cain’s injunction could also grip home rules and efforts to reform the federal oil program.

One example is BLM’s pending waste prevention rule for oil and gas development on public lands, which would tighten methane pollution controls on federal drilling and production.

The rule would replace the Trump administration’s 2018 void rule, which was thrown out by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for relying on a social cost of methane that only accounted for household emissions. .

If BLM followed Cain’s lead and applied only national emissions to its calculation of the social cost of carbon, then the agency would violate a California district court ruling that found that approach inadequate, Mancini said.

Similarly, BLM could be found in violation of prior court precedent if it monetizes certain costs or benefits such as coal and oil royalties, but excludes climate costs, Mancini warned.

Other federal agencies could also face significant regulatory setbacks if Cain’s ruling remains in place.

The delays caused by the injunction follow a year of political tensions over the federal oil and gas program, which climate activists have pushed the White House to step down and oil and gas allies have fiercely defended. .

The president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming recently called the Biden administration’s slow rehiring a “dereliction of duty.”

“The administration’s failure to enforce the law with respect to quarterly lease sales will have tangible negative impacts on the state and its people,” association president Pete Obermueller said in a statement. recent release.

DOE, DOT and EPA

Cain’s decision will likely extend well beyond the Interior. The Department of Energy said about 21 pending rules would be affected, while the EPA had at least five rules in an initial count.

The Department of Transportation has identified nine rules, as well as 60 decision records or environmental impact statements.

Mancini noted that changing the social cost of greenhouse gases would often require agencies to redo modeling used in impact assessments. Relaunching regulatory analyzes would then trigger a lengthy review both within and between agencies. Even starting over with agency advice or NEPA actions could strain the agency’s resources, Mancini said.

These requirements “could prevent agencies from conducting analysis and developing policy on other pressing issues,” he added.

In addition to delays in developing and analyzing the rules, the decision also prevents the Biden administration from finalizing the social cost of greenhouse gas values.

To date, the Biden administration has used intermediate values ​​identical to those adopted by the Obama administration but adjusted for inflation.

Cain’s injunction effectively shut down the interagency task force tasked with finalizing the updated values, Mancini said.

He noted that the finalized values ​​needed further comment and independent peer review.

“As a result of the preliminary injunction, all such efforts ceased, affecting the federal government’s ability to avail itself of the latest scientific and economic information in decision-making,” Mancini said.

This story also appears in Climate thread.