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Biden's Climate Agenda And Trump's Judiciary Agenda Are Colliding
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Biden's Climate Agenda And Trump's Judiciary Agenda Are Colliding


President Joe Biden's push to combat global warming collides squarely with his Republican predecessor's pro-industry, anti-environmental legacy.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Louisiana overturned Biden's early executive order, which had temporarily halted new oil and gas leases across federal lands and waters. The pause, which Republicans had incorrectly described as an all-out ban, had been put in place pending the outcome of a review of the federal leasing program.

The decision is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the United States' output of climate-changing emissions, but it highlights what may be Biden's biggest challenge: a judiciary packed with conservative judges who share former President Donald Trump's devotion to the fossil fuel industry.

While Trump's total of 226 judges appointed during his single four-year term falls short of the 320 judges appointed during Barack Obama's two-term presidency or the 322 judges appointed during George W. Bush's, Trump sat 54 judges on federal appeals court benches, one fewer than Obama and eight fewer than Bush.

In a tweet Tuesday night, Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont. ), a fossil fuel industry ally, referred to the appointees as “a firewall to Joe Biden’s harmful attacks on Made-in-America energy.”

Trump's judicial nominees have been widely criticized as ideologues, and the ruling issued Tuesday demonstrated that Judge Terry Doughty of the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana was no exception.

Doughty reached the conclusion that Louisiana and the other plaintiffs in the case demonstrated that the administration's actions would cause them harm.

“Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake,” Doughty wrote in his order, referring to local government funding, job opportunities for Plaintiff State employees, and funds for the restoration of Louisiana’s coastline.

Doughty didn't say anything about what's at stake if nations don't reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: rising seas, worsening heat waves and droughts, and emerging infectious diseases.

Doughty's opinion was based in part on a study by Timothy Considine, a University of Wyoming economics professor, who claimed that a drilling ban would result in massive job losses in states such as Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado, despite the fact that vast swaths of federal leases have yet to be tapped.

Internal emails obtained by Wyoming Public Radio and the investigative website Floodlight show that the Western Energy Alliance, a lobbying group representing 200 oil and gas companies, assisted in directing Considine's study and then promoted the findings to state officials.

According to his CV, Considine has done consulting for the American Petroleum Institute, the leading trade association for the oil and gas industry in the United States, as well as several coal, oil, gas, and mining companies. Considine also notes on his university faculty page that his work has been published by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C. that was co-founded by the fossil fuel industry.

“The oil and gas leasing pause is a critical part of President Biden’s efforts to turn the page on the Trump administration’s disastrous climate policies and begin taking public land stewardship and our climate seriously,” said Kyle Herrig, president of the watchdog group Accountable.US, in a statement Wednesday.

Republicans from fossil fuel-producing states, including Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, have used Considine's study to criticize Biden's leasing moratorium.

In a rebuttal, Laura Zachary, an energy analyst and co-director of Apogee Economics and Policy, an energy research organization, wrote that the study “has a number of weaknesses that exaggerate the economic impacts of potential policies by between an estimated 70-85%.”

In a recent analysis, the Energy Department concluded that the pause would have “no effect” until 2022, “because there is a minimum eight-to-ten month delay from leasing to production in onshore areas.”

And, according to Ed Crooks, a vice chairman at the energy consultancy Wood MacKenzie, the impact on US emissions will be negligible in the short term.

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“Most of the emissions from oil and gas come from consumption, not production,” he tweeted on Wednesday, “so even if US production is affected, the total effect will be very small if consumption remains constant.”

Already, the Biden administration is struggling to gain congressional support for its $2 trillion infrastructure plan. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a long-time climate hawk in the Senate, said last week that he was “nervous” that the president’s efforts to win Republican votes on the package would risk the process becoming “sucked into ‘bipartisanship.’”

Even if Democrats manage to pass a climate bill with their slim majority in Congress, Tuesday's ruling demonstrates the threat that could await it.

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court was critical in halting the Obama administration's signature climate regulation, the Clean Power Plan, a set of clean-energy subsidies and carbon limits on utilities that Republican attorneys general successfully persuaded the high court to pause in February 2016.

The order issued on Tuesday is the result of a lawsuit filed by Louisiana and more than a dozen other states against the administration in an attempt to prevent Biden's executive order from being implemented.

An Interior Department official said in a statement that the agency will comply with the decision and is working to complete a report that will “include preliminary findings on the state of federal conventional energy programs, as well as outline next steps and recommendations for the Department and Congress to improve stewardship of public lands and waters, create jobs, and build a just and equitable economy.”

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