What is the “social cost of carbon” and why is AG Landry asking the Supreme Court to stop it?
Louisiana is at the center of a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the cost of global warming emissions to society.
Joined by nine other Republican-led states, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry leads a challenge against the increase in the estimate of the damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions amid speculation that he plans to run for governor.
Last year, President Joe Biden re-established an Obama-era group called the Interagency Social Cost of Carbon Task Force that had disbanded under the Trump administration. Under President Donald Trump, officials viewed the cost of climate pollution as negligible.
With the back from the working groupthis cost has risen to estimated levels under the Obama administration with plans to analyze whether an even higher figure would more appropriately represent the impact of climate change, as some research suggests.
But Landry and other attorneys general argue the move is a “unilateral and arbitrary attack” on state rights, potentially harming the local economy by unduly increasing regulatory burdens on the fossil fuel, chemical, and chemical industries. chemicals and fertilizers from Louisiana.
It’s a case that could go to the Supreme Court if Landry is successful, after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently denied the states’ injunction request, allowing the Biden administration to use its estimate to the moment. A Louisiana district court judge had ruled in favor of stopping the administration’s use of a higher metric, but the appeals court disagreed about a month later.
In their unanimous decision, the three circuit court judges called the states’ concerns about immediate harm “merely hypothetical.”
What is the social cost of carbon?
At the heart of the legal battle is a little-known and flawed economic concept that plays a critical role in balancing the generational impact of climate change in federal policy and regulation.
The Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases assigns dollar figures to the long-term damage caused by the emission of three contributors to global warming: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
“That’s the cost we impose on society by emitting an extra ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” said Greg Upton, associate research professor at the Center for Energy Studies at Louisiana State University. “And that cost to society is the cost not only to society today but also to future generations.”
The federal government began using the metric under the Bush administration after a court ruled that officials did not sufficiently take into account the damage caused by climate change in a new fuel economy standard. The Obama administration then sought to standardize the tool and improve the calculation models by creating an interagency task force to determine how much emissions are costing people.
Between Obama, Trump and Biden, those numbers have fluctuated a lot. For carbon dioxide, it went from $46 per ton at around $1, and it’s now temporarily sitting at about $51 per ton as the revived task force continues to draft new issues.
Methane and nitrous oxide – two of the most potent greenhouse gases – are assigned even higher costs. Although more carbon dioxide is emitted around the world, when compared pound for pound, these two gases trap more heat. The 2020 value for each tonne of methane was $1,500, and for nitrous oxide it’s $18,000.
The calculation is based on two factors: the damage caused by global warming and the value of life for future generations. Under the Trump administration, the answer to these two questions was not great, but some researchers claim that even the Biden and Obama administration totals grossly underestimate the cost of gas.
A 2020 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change argued that the range should be between $100 and $200 per ton of carbon dioxide.
The metric, Upton said, can be used to price carbon through tools like a carbon tax to force the market to consider the social cost.
But Upton noted that the value placed on carbon emissions remains an ongoing discussion in the academic community given the uncertainty surrounding the effect of climate change.
“There is a huge amount of knowledge that humans still need to acquire, and as we acquire more knowledge, we will be more efficient at estimating this social cost of carbon,” he said.
What are the issues in Louisiana
Louisiana is among the states with the most to lose as climate change worsens, but its oil and gas legacy also leaves the economy vulnerable as federal regulators look for ways to cut fossil fuels.
Landry’s lawsuit calls the social cost of greenhouse gases “fabricated,” “arbitrary,” and made “from whole cloth.”
And in his appeal to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito filed April 27, he argued that the federal government’s consideration of the cost of greenhouse gas emissions amounts to overreach. He said using the metric could harm the state’s economy, coastal restoration efforts, and unfairly inject administration into the daily lives of residents.
“The government can justify killing cows (because they emit methane), pipeline projects (because pipeline projects could contribute to downstream consumption of oil or gas), road projects (because that concrete and traffic contribute to GHGs), … and so on,” Landry’s application to the Supreme Court said.
Landry raised concerns about how the figure is used to decide regulatory measures when carrying out cost-benefit analyses, potentially affecting energy projects by weighing climate costs.
He believes the value should return to Trump-era levels when the magnitude of the cost was limited based on climate impacts experienced only in the United States and significantly reduced the value of people in future generations.
But Andres Restrepo, a senior attorney for the Sierra Club, called Landry’s arguments flawed, noting that in 2016 the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals had already confirmed the use of the social cost of carbon within the framework of the regulations of the Ministry of Energy. Failing to consider the cost of climate pollution could hamper broader efforts to limit global warming, he said.
“If you have a policy in place that dramatically underestimates the costs of greenhouse gases and the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases, you’re going to end up with a hugely distorted landscape that won’t allow us to do what we need to do at the federal level to address the climate crisis,” Restrepo said.
Currently, the legal battle is centered on pressure from states for an injunction. If the Supreme Court accepts Landry’s appeal, that would determine whether the government can use its calculations while the trial unfolds. Once decided, the district court will consider the outcome of the case.