The Supreme Court decided on May 26 to allow President Joe Biden’s administration to continue using a key metric in the fight against climate change.
The court’s order, in refusing to put back an order from a federal judge in Louisiana that had blocked the administration, is just one line long. But it represents a big setback for the Republican-led states that have been suing the president over the metric, known as the social cost of carbon: a measure, in dollars, of how much damage results from emitting 1 ton of carbon dioxide.
Being able to discuss the damage in terms of a precise dollar amount is important because it allows policymakers to show when the benefits of preventing global warming are greater than the costs. At some point it just becomes cheaper to switch to sustainable systems instead of coping with all the wildfires, floods, droughts, and heat waves that result from unsustainable systems.
In 2021, Biden signed an executive order that tasked a working group with determining the social cost of carbon (SCC). The working group decided to go with an interim figure of $51 per ton — the same SCC the Obama administration used — until it could study the matter in depth and release a final determination that’s updated to the latest science.
But under the Trump administration, the SCC was as low as $1, in part because of a decision to factor in only domestic, not global, impacts of emissions. Compared to $1, the $51 price tag the Biden administration reverted to is high — and the Republican states suing Biden, led by Louisiana, are not happy with it.
Knowing that the SCC is used in regulating carbon-emitting projects, like oil and gas drilling, the red states had argued that the price tag is a “power grab” designed to “manipulate America’s entire federal regulatory apparatus through speculative costs and benefits.”
But according to some top environmental economists, we have good reason to believe the true cost of emitting carbon is actually a lot higher than even a $51 price tag suggests. [Continue reading…]