Bloomberg Law
March 8, 2021, 7:09 PMUpdated: March 8, 2021, 9:49 PM

White House’s Reworked Climate Metric Draws Suit from States (1)

Ellen M. Gilmer
Ellen M. Gilmer

Republican attorneys general are taking aim at the Biden administration for revamping how the federal government calculates the cost of greenhouse gases.

Twelve states led by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) filed suit Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, accusing President Joe Biden of exceeding the executive branch’s power in restoring Obama-era values for an analytical tool called the social cost of greenhouse gases.

The lawsuit represents the first aggressive legal attack on the Biden administration’s commitment to prioritizing climate action.

The government uses the metric to assess the harm caused by emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases. The Trump administration slashed the value by changing the calculation’s methodology. The Biden administration reversed course last month.

But Missouri and other states say calculating the social cost of greenhouse gases is “an inherently speculative, policy-laden, and indeterminate task” that should be left to Congress. The lawsuit challenges Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order that directed an interagency working group to develop interim values to assess the costs of government actions.

“This quintessentially legislative policy has enormous consequences for America’s economy and people,” the states’ complaint says. “In theory, the Biden Administration’s calculation of ‘social costs’ would justify imposing trillions of dollars in regulatory costs on the American economy every year to offset these supposed costs.”

The other state challengers are Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah.

Critics are skeptical the claims will get traction in court.

“My immediate reaction is that these states should have a very hard time convincing a judge that a President asking his agencies to work together, to engage with the public and stakeholders, and then to follow the best available science and economics to evaluate the consequences of their decisions, is somehow illegal,” Jason A. Schwartz, legal director for New York University’s Institute for Policy Integrity, said in an email.

Causes of Action: Violations of separation of powers under U.S. Constitution, Clean Air Act, Administrative Procedure Act.

Relief: Declaratory relief, injunctive relief, prohibiting agencies from using interim values for social cost of greenhouse gases.

Response: The White House referred questions to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.

Attorneys: The state attorney general offices represent the states.

The case is Missouri v. Biden, E.D. Mo., No. 4:21-cv-00287, 3/8/21.

(Adds Schwartz comment in paragraphs 8-9, DOJ response in paragraph 12.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at