Washington Weekly: February 23, 2022
This Week’s Headlines
- Court Ruling Blocks Key Climate Tool: On February 11th, a Louisiana judge issued an injunction blocking the Biden administration’s use of an “interim social cost of carbon metric” that was instituted by executive order last year. The social cost of carbon assigns a dollar amount to metric tons of carbon emissions and is a key tool in assessing benefits of carbon regulation and emissions reductions. While the administration plans to appeal, the injunction will delay pending environmental reviews and analyses, including those for federal oil and gas projects.
- Supreme Court Rejects Dakota Access Pipeline Appeal: The Supreme Court yesterday rejected an appeal by Texas-based company Energy Transfer, refusing to hear the drawn out lawsuit over the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Energy Transfer’s appeal came after a lower court ruled the project requires more thorough environmental review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a process that is ongoing and will determine the fate of the pipeline.
- White House Council of Environmental Quality Releases Screening Tool: On Monday, as part of its Justice40 Initiative, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released a preliminary version of the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool intended to ensure the benefits of environmental justice programs reach disadvantaged communities. While based on 28 key metrics, the beta version of the tool does not include race as part of the screening process, a seemingly glaring omission pointed to by environmental justice advocates. The White House CEQ acknowledged the omission and said that they left out race so that the tool could survive legal challenges. A two month comment period provides an opportunity for the public to learn more about the tool and give feedback that could shape the final version.
A Deeper Dive
What if I told you there was a number that some experts have called “the single most important number for thinking about climate change,” and then I told you that a federal judge (a Trump pick) just blocked the Biden Administration from using that number in their policies across all agencies – how would you feel?
If you said “I would feel concerned bordering on alarmed,” I would say “you’re not alone.”
The number (or calculation) is known as the “social cost of carbon,” which is basically the cost of the damages caused by one extra ton of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. This calculation is essential to the federal government’s rules and regulations because: 1) it’s important to understand the costs and benefits of those policies, and 2) this type of analysis is required under federal law (the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, aka the “Magna Carta” of environmental laws).
So if federal agencies can’t use this updated cost figure (even temporarily), what will that do to the governmental rules that are critical to safeguarding public health and the environment?
The ultimate answer probably depends on how it plays out in the courts, but for now, the consequences appear to be sweeping. Already, the Biden Administration has identified a number of proposals, programs, and projects that would need to be significantly delayed or revised.
Here are just a couple examples of delays to existing standards and projects that directly benefit Michiganders (as identified by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs):
- Energy standards: The Department of Energy is under a court-order deadline to release energy conservation standards for manufactured housing (mobile homes, tiny homes, and other important affordable housing options for many areas of Michigan). These standards could help this housing be more comfortable and save the resident a lot of money on their energy bill (not to mention less impact to our air and climate).
- Public transit: The Federal Transit Administration oversees a signature $2.3 billion “Capital Investment Grants” program which is required to do an environmental analysis for the important public transit projects funded through this program, which could be delayed by months thanks to this court injunction. Key sections of The Rapid’s bus rapid transit system (in Grand Rapids) was made possible thanks to funding from Capital Investment Grants (and Michigan in general is in need of new public transit projects).
While project delays and regulatory uncertainty is undesirable, there is a longer-term, more insidious threat: a judicial decision that would force agencies to return to an old and outdated calculation of the social cost of carbon, which could weaken critical climate regulations that would tackle the climate crisis, or even prevent them from being finalized in the first place.
The Michigan LCV Difference
Although the Build Back Better Act has all but stalled in the Senate, the Michigan LCV team continues to keep up the push for bold climate action by Congress to address climate change.
On Tuesday evening in Dearborn, the Michigan LCV team partnered with the Michigan People’s Campaign and Michigan United to host a town hall focused on climate action featuring Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Congressman Andy Levin, State Senators Stephanie Chang and Adam Hollier, Reps. Abraham Aiyash and Cynthia A. Johnson, and Detroit City Councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero.
From left to right: State Senator Stephanie Chang, Detroit City Councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero, Congressman Andy Levin, Representative Cynthia A. Johnson, and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (on screen).
The panel discussion centered around the intersections of climate change, citizenship, paid leave, and bold climate action at the federal level, with lawmakers explaining why they believe now is the time to take action to protect our communities and meaningfully address the climate crisis.
You can check out a recording of the event here.
The Michigan LCV team will be sure to keep you updated and aware of upcoming climate action events, so stay tuned for ways to plug in moving forward!