The Supreme Court said Thursday it will allow the Biden administration to use a higher estimate when calculating damages caused by greenhouse gas emissions, delivering a blow to Republican-led states that had sought to dismiss the approach as “speculative.”

The decision offers a temporary victory for the Biden administration as it looks to meet its goals of reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change. It allows the Biden administration to continue using the metric, known widely as the “social cost of carbon,” on an interim basis while litigation plays out. The metric is a calculation of the total economic damages caused by carbon emissions — including sea level rise, extreme wildfires and hurricane seasons, and flooding — and is used in a wide range of regulations.

On Thursday, Supreme Court justices issued a one-line order reinstating the administration’s interim use of the metric and did not note any dissent.


The decision to allow the administration to use the metric comes after a federal judge in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction in February blocking the Biden administration’s interim use of the metric — siding with Republican attorneys general who argued that President Joe Biden lacked the authority to reset the figure to Obama-era levels, much higher than those used in the Trump years, without congressional approval.

The social cost of carbon was first implemented under the Bush administration and was raised under President Barack Obama.

Shortly after taking office, Biden issued an executive order directing federal agencies to return to using an interim social cost of carbon number of $51 per ton, the level used under Obama, but it subsequently fell under former President Donald Trump to just $1 per ton.

In appealing the preliminary injunction earlier this year, administration officials warned it would “impede a variety of pending agency rulemakings and actions.”

A “significant number of agency rules and actions would need to be postponed or reworked as a result of the Preliminary Injunction,” Dominic Mancini, a deputy administrator at the Office of Management and Budget, said in response to the February decision.

The metric is used in making a wide range of federal decisions, including in auctioning off leasing on public lands. As a result of the pause, the Interior Department missed a key auction deadline to announce lease sales in the first quarter of the year, prompting sharp criticism from industry officials and Republicans in Congress.