Supreme Court to consider limiting climate assessments for infrastructure projects

The Supreme Court may decide to limit the federal government’s ability to consider climate change or other environmental impacts when weighing whether to approve infrastructure such as pipelines and railroads.

The high court on Monday announced that it would take up a case concerning the approval of a railway line that could ship oil in Utah.

A lower court said that more assessment of the railway’s impacts on oil production and refining — and the corresponding environmental impacts — was needed before it could be approved.

Railway company Uinta Basin Railway, LLC and Utah’s Seven County Infrastructure Coalition are hoping the Supreme Court will challenge that decision.

But, more broadly, the case seeks to bar federal agencies from considering a project’s indirect emissions — those related to the project’s impacts on fossil fuel production or consumption.

If the company wins out, this ruling could apply not only to rail projects, but also pipelines, shipping ports and other methods of transporting oil, gas and coal.

Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said that it would be “very worrisome” for the climate if the petitioners win out.

“It could reduce the consideration of climate impacts” for a “wide variety” of federal actions, Gerrard noted.

A similar issue has played out politically in recent years. The Trump administration also sought to reduce consideration of a project’s indirect emissions — which was later reversed by the Biden administration.

While it is not clear which way the high court will rule, its conservative majority has restricted the federal government’s authority on regulating climate and water in recent years.

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