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Supreme Court rejects red states' plea to block Biden climate metric


The Supreme Court will not torpedo the Biden administration’s estimate of the social impacts of climate change, rejecting on Thursday a request from Louisiana and other Republican-controlled states to block agencies from using the metric in rulemakings and other decisions.

The decision means the White House can move forward with its plans to overhaul and likely significantly increase the number known as the social cost of carbon — a dollar value assigned to future damages from climate change. The current value is $51 for each ton of greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere, but experts believe it should be raised to as much as four times that amount.

Background: In response to a legal challenge led by Louisiana, Judge James Cain of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana — a Trump appointee — in February issued an injunction against any use of the social cost of carbon, which had been previously deployed by the Obama and Trump administrations. That decision threw a wrench into rulemakings, environmental reviews, lease sales and grant disbursements, the Biden administration warned.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in March stayed Cain’s injunction, ruling that Louisiana and the other states lacked standing to challenge the metric directly, but needed to challenge it as applied to a specific rulemaking.

Supreme Court appeal: Louisiana appealed to the Supreme Court for help, arguing that the metric is “a power grab designed to manipulate America’s entire federal regulatory apparatus.” The Biden administration pushed back, arguing once again that the states lack standing and that the challenge was premature.

In a brief order issued on Thursday, the court sided with the Biden administration, rejecting without explanation Louisiana’s emergency motion. There were no noted dissents.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office and the White House did not immediately return requests for comment.

What’s next: The litigation continues to play out before the 5th Circuit. But that court’s strongly worded temporary stay of Cain’s injunction, along with the lack of interest from the en banc court or Supreme Court, doesn’t bode well for Louisiana’s case.

The White House’s interagency working group is expected to propose a broader update of the social cost metric in the coming months, though an exact timeline is unclear. Experts argue advancements in both climate and economic forecasting justify raising the figure to as high as $200 or more.

Context: The Supreme Court’s refusal to get involved in the Louisiana suit likely is a bad sign for a similar but separate legal action led by Missouri and other states. In Missouri’s case, a district court judge tossed the lawsuit last year after finding the states lacked standing, much like the 5th Circuit concluded about Louisiana.

The Missouri lawsuit is on appeal before the 8th Circuit, where oral arguments are scheduled for June 16. The 8th Circuit is not bound by the 5th Circuit’s ruling but likely will take notice of the Supreme Court’s decision not to reverse it.

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