Biden administration halts new drilling in legal fight over climate costs

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Environmental activists said they were pleased with the pause in new leases and permits, but worried that Judge Cain’s ruling could ultimately weaken the administration’s ability to issue aggressive climate policies.

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Brett Hartl, director of government affairs for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “They’ll have to issue the leases at some point, and they won’t be able to use the social cost of carbon.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has called the social cost of carbon a “voodoo economy,” argued that Mr. Biden overstepped his authority by applying the social cost of carbon to decision-making. He was joined by attorneys general from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Justice Cain sided with Republican attorneys general, saying the use of a social cost of carbon is unconstitutional because Congress has never passed legislation authorizing it.

Yet Congress has passed virtually no legislation on how an administration should conduct economic analysis, something it has done for decades. In a statement mocked by some legal experts, the judge cited a “separation of powers clause” in the Constitution. There is no such clause.

“This term in opinion is one of the most embarrassing parts of a very embarrassing opinion,” said Amit Narang, an expert on federal regulatory issues with government watchdog group Public Citizen. He called the judge’s opinion “a partisan political stunt disguised as legal advice.”

Meanwhile, the decision has brought the administration’s work to a screeching halt. The interagency task force that was updating the social cost of carbon is on hold, according to an email from the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Justice Department has warned that other policies could also be delayed . An anti-climate change organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, wants the EPA to revoke new regulations on vehicle exhaust emissions, arguing that analysis using the social cost of carbon is now flawed on the basis of Judge Cain’s decision.

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