U.S. Freezes New Oil And Gas Projects Amid GOP Suit Over Social Cost Of Emissions

The Biden administration said Saturday it would suspend any decisions about new oil and gas drilling amid an ongoing legal battle with 10 Republican states over how to calculate the cost of fossil fuel-driven climate change.

The decision comes amid a recent court ruling over a government metric known as the “social cost of carbon,” which sets a dollar figure for the climate change-related damage associated with greenhouse gas emissions. That figure was $51 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted under President Barack Obama, but slashed to just $7 per ton under President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden reinstated the $51 metric when he took office and said the administration would update it further as climate change continues.

The figure, as The New York Times notes, is used to guide government decisions on pollution-linked industries, and a higher dollar value in the future could make it harder for new oil and gas projects to move forward. Scientists have long said that fossil fuel emissions need to be drastically reduced as soon as possible to limit the negative effects of climate change, which already cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year.

A coalition of 10 GOP attorneys general sued the Biden administration after it reverted to the original figure, however, saying the metric unduly targets energy-producing states. A Trump-appointed judge agreed earlier this month, blocking the White House from using the higher cost estimate while saying the $51 figure would “artificially increase the cost estimates of lease sales.”

Environmental advocates blasted the ruling as basically a defanging of the nation’s climate policies, and the Department of Justice said it would appeal the decision while it indefinitely paused the rollout of new oil and gas permits.

“From President [Richard] Nixon on, every President has imposed some internal Executive Branch requirement for federal agencies to assess the costs and benefits of major government actions,” the DOJ said in a court filing this weekend. “The injunction further calls into question the authority of the past three Administrations to provide standardized guidance to agencies on appropriate methods of estimating the social cost of greenhouse-gas emissions.”

The legal jostling is the latest in an ongoing battle between Biden and GOP efforts to limit his climate policies. The president suspended new federal oil and gas leases when he entered the White House and Republican states sued after that move, too. Biden was forced by a federal judge to allow the lease sale to go forward, the largest in U.S. history.

Environmentalists said the sale was a ticking “carbon bomb,” but a judge canceled the leases last month, saying the Biden administration failed to properly account for climate impacts when it held the auction.

The latest ruling over the social cost of carbon calculation seems to have had a similar effect, at least for now, with the Biden administration saying any new oil and gas permits would be halted as the DOJ assesses “whether and how they can proceed.”

The Times notes that the decision has already had an impact in Wyoming, which had hoped to have a lease sale for drilling that could have brought millions of dollars in revenue to the state’s coffers. That sale, for now, won’t go forward as planned.

Wyoming was one of the states that filed suit against the metric.

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