22 december 2016

The coming battle between the Trump team and economists over the true cost of climate change

By Chelsea Harvey, The Washington Post, December 22, 2016

As we learn more and more about the tenor of the Trump transition, a key part of its regulatory rollback strategy on climate change is coming into focus.

It seems increasingly likely that the Trump administration would either alter, or attempt to stop using entirely, an Obama-era metric known as the “social cost of carbon” in its federal rule-making processes. And that could have have major effects on the way environmental policies are written (or unwritten) in the coming years.

A recent, highly controversial questionnaire the transition team sent to the Department of Energy requested a list of all “employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings,” as well as emails and other materials associated with those meetings. It also asked a variety of questions about the assumptions that went into calculating the social cost of carbon.

Meanwhile, a document written last month by Department of Energy transition leader Thomas Pyle and recently obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy, suggested that “during the Trump Administration the [social cost of carbon] will likely be reviewed and the latest science brought to bear. If the [social cost of carbon] were subjected to the latest science, it would certainly be much lower than what the Obama administration has been using.”

But experts have countered that attacking the social cost of carbon may not hold up under scientific, or even legal, standards. If anything, many scientists believe that its monetary value should be set even higher.

The cost of climate change

Scientists agree that climate change could cause a wide variety of damages to human communities, including natural disasters, harm to human health, reduced agricultural output and lower economic productivity, all of which result in monetary costs to society. The social cost of carbon, then, refers to the cost of emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

A U.S. government working group first convened in 2009 to develop a method for quantifying the social cost of carbon, and the value has since been used to help create a variety of federal environmental regulations, including the Clean Power Plan. The cost is currently set at about $36 per ton of carbon dioxide.


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