A Trump-appointed federal judge has blocked the Biden administration’s attempt to place greater emphasis on the potential harms of greenhouse gas emissions when creating rules for polluting industries.
The move is a blow to Joe Biden’s efforts to bring America back more into line with global efforts to tackle the climate crisis after the Trump era, when the United States largely turned its back on measures that could have helped to limit emissions.
It also shows the impact of Donald Trump’s judicial appointments, which were extremely conservative and will have an impact far beyond Trump’s single term.
U.S. District Judge James Cain of the Western District of Louisiana sided with Republican attorneys general for energy-producing states who said the administration’s action to raise the emissions cost estimate carbon emissions threatened to increase energy costs while decreasing state revenues from energy production.
The judge issued an injunction that prohibits the Biden administration from using the higher cost estimate, which assigns a monetary value to the damage caused by each additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
Biden, on his first day in office, restored the climate cost estimate to around $51 a tonne of carbon dioxide emissions after the Trump administration reduced the figure to around $7 or less a tonne. Trump’s estimate only included damage felt in the United States compared to global damage captured in the higher estimates that were previously used under the Obama administration.
The estimate would be used to shape future rules for oil and gas drilling, automotive and other industries. Using a higher cost estimate would help justify reductions in global warming emissions, making the benefits more likely to outweigh the expense of complying with the new rules.
Known as the social cost of carbon, the damage figure uses economic models to capture the impacts of rising sea levels, recurring droughts and other consequences of climate change.
The carbon cost estimate had not yet seen much use under Biden, but is being considered in an ongoing environmental review of oil and gas lease sales in western states.
Economist Michael Greenstone, who helped establish the social cost of carbon while working in the Obama administration, said if the decision stands, it would signal that the United States is again unwilling to tackling the climate crisis.
“The social cost of carbon guides the stringency of climate policy,” said the University of Chicago professor. “Setting it at near-zero Trump administration levels effectively removes all the teeth of climate regulation.”
Republican attorneys general led by Jeff Landry of Louisiana said the Biden administration’s relaunch of the higher estimate was illegal and beyond its authority in basing the figure on global considerations. Other states whose officials have sued include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Landry’s office released a statement calling Cain’s decision “a major victory for nearly every aspect of Louisiana’s economy and culture.”
Cain’s Friday ruling follows a ruling by another Louisiana judge last summer that overturned a separate attempt by Biden to tackle greenhouse gas emissions by suspending new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.
The judge in that case, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, is also appointed by Trump.