Judge tosses Missouri AG lawsuit targeting ‘social cost of carbon’ emissions

President Joe Biden’s administration pegs the social cost of carbon at $51 per ton. Under his predecessor, Donald Trump, it was as low as $1.

By: - September 1, 2021 2:48 pm

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by more than a dozen states challenging President Joe Biden’s efforts to calculate the social cost of carbon. (Getty Images)

A federal judge found a group of Republican attorneys general lacked the standing to sue President Joe Biden’s administration for taking steps to consider the “social cost of carbon” in federal regulations.

The suit, supported by officials in 13 states, was led by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate to replace Sen. Roy Blunt. His spokesman said in a statement that Schmitt would appeal the judge’s decision, which was  issued Tuesday.

Schmitt’s lawsuit took aim at an executive order Biden issued in January, directing federal agencies to calculate an interim and final social cost of carbon, nitrous oxide and methane and make recommendations as to how those should be applied to decision-making, budgeting and procurement by the federal government. 

The costs of each of those emissions are meant to represent the damages associated with increases in greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Scientific American, Biden’s working group pegged the social cost of carbon at $51 per ton. Under President Donald Trump, it was as low as $1. 

“An accurate social cost is essential for agencies to accurately determine the social benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when conducting cost-benefit analyses of regulatory and other actions,” the executive order says. 

Schmitt and fellow attorneys general argued in their suit that the figure could result in “trillions of dollars in regulatory costs on the American economy every year.”

“In practice, President Biden’s order directs federal agencies to use this enormous figure to justify an equally enormous expansion of federal regulatory power that will intrude into every aspect of Americans’ lives — from their cars to their refrigerators and homes, to their grocery and electric bills,” the suit says. 

Schmitt’s spokesman, Chris Nuelle, reiterated that concern in a statement Wednesday.

“Attorney General Schmitt will continue to fight against unelected bureaucrats’ attempts to impose massive federal regulations — in this case or any other instance — that could crush farmers and manufacturers in Missouri,” Nuelle said. 

But U.S. District Judge Audrey Flessig said in the dismissal that plaintiffs’ complaint was too speculative.

“The injury that plaintiffs fear is from hypothetical future regulation possibly derived from these estimates,” Flessig wrote. “That injury is not concrete and therefore insufficient for standing.”

The suit is also premature, the judge wrote, because the plaintiffs will not be harmed at this time absent a court decision. 

“The court does not mean to disregard plaintiffs’ fear of future economic harm,” Flessig wrote. “But plaintiffs will have ample opportunity to bring legal challenges to particular regulations if those regulations pose imminent, concrete and particularized injury.” 

Schmitt was joined in the suit by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the only major Republican candidate currently in Kansas’ gubernatorial primary, and officials in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on energy, the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she previously covered City Hall for The Kansas City Star, as well as state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City.