A Trump-appointed judge dealt another blow to Biden’s climate agenda on Friday, barring the administration from using a metric that estimates the societal cost of carbon emissions.
US District Judge James Cain of the Western District of Louisiana issued an injunction on Friday that prevents the Biden administration from using what’s known as the “social cost of carbon” in decisions around oil and gas drilling on public land or in rules that govern fossil fuel emissions.
The metric uses economic models to put a value on each ton of carbon dioxide emissions, to help quantify the economic harm caused by the climate crisis: sea level rise, more destructive hurricanes, extreme wildfire seasons and flooding, for example.
Agencies then weigh that economic harm in decisions that involve things like emissions regulations or fossil fuel drilling approvals.
It was first implemented during the Obama administration and substantially weakened by the Trump administration. Biden revived the social cost of carbon on his first day in office, setting it at $51 per ton of CO2 emissions – the same level as set by the Obama administration.
The Biden administration had not yet used the metric in many decisions, but was expected to release an updated figure later this month.
Ten Republican-led states brought the lawsuit against the Biden administration. In his ruling, Cain sided with the states, saying the administration’s carbon cost estimate “will significantly drive up costs” while decreasing state revenue.
Cain added that his home state of Louisiana “will be directly harmed by the reduction of funds necessary to maintain the state’s coastal lands.”
The Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment.
Earthjustice attorney Hana Vizcarra, whose organization is not involved in the case, said she’d be surprised if the government’s attorneys didn’t appeal.
“I can’t imagine not appealing this, if I were the Justice Department,” Vizcarra said.
Vizcarra added there’s not much legal precedent to support Cain’s ruling, as a similar lawsuit brought by Republican states was tossed by an Obama-appointed federal judge in Missouri last year.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry praised the decision in a statement.
“Biden’s attempt to control the activities of the American people and the activities of every business from Main Street to Wall Street has been halted today,” Landry said. “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.”
This is not the first time a Trump-appointed judge has dealt a blow to the Biden administration’s climate goals. In June, another federal judge in Louisiana blocked Biden’s temporary pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands – saying Biden had exceeded his authority.
That decision paved the way for the Department of Interior to hold a November auction for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Even though administration officials insisted at the time it ran counter to their climate goals, they maintained they had to follow the law. A federal judge in DC District Court later invalidated the sale.
Biden’s administration will face perhaps the most serious legal challenge to climate policies later this month in a US Supreme Court case that could limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
This story has been updated with additional information.