June 13, 2018

GAO Starts Study of Social Cost of Carbon

Whitehouse applauds review of key measure of cost of carbon pollution and climate change

Washington, DC – Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) announced that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has begun a study of the social cost of carbon—the measure of long-term damage done by carbon pollution—including a thorough analysis of the Trump administration’s decision to drastically reduce the value of the social cost of carbon in the federal government’s decisions.  Whitehouse welcomed the progress.

“Carbon pollution is triggering big changes.  It’s threatening our homes and businesses with stronger storms and rising seas.  It’s sparking bigger wildfires and longer droughts, and killing our crops.  And it’s warming and acidifying our ocean waters, displacing our fisheries.  These changes all come with a price tag – and we ought to know what that price will be,” said Whitehouse.  “The president’s decision to undermine the social cost of carbon in our policymaking is a bad one.  This report will help us learn just how bad, and show how states and other countries are using the social cost of carbon to measure the risks they see from climate change.  I’m glad to see this study is moving forward.”

In March 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order disbanding an important interagency working group charged with formulating the social cost of carbon and withdrew the guidance it had issued.  The Trump administration also directed agencies to use an outdated Office of Management and Budget policy to monetize the value of greenhouse gas emissions from changes in federal regulation.

The result has been a severe and unsupported reduction in the value of the social cost of carbon.  Under Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of its proposed rule to repeal the Clean Power Plan, for example, dropped the social cost of carbon from $45 per ton to as low as $1 per ton for 2020.  This comes after the courts have ruled that federal agencies must use the social cost of carbon.  States and the business community are also increasingly relying on the social cost of carbon.

In early December 2017, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined Whitehouse in requesting the GAO study.  The Senators asked the GAO to look at states and other countries’ social costs of carbon; the Trump administration’s justification for dramatically changing the way it calculates the social cost of carbon; and the rationales that have been used to support various discount rates in assessing the social cost of carbon.

The GAO announced that it would undertake the project in late December.


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