July 26, 2020
A federal report released July 14, 2020 found the Trump administration set a rock-bottom price on the damages done by greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the government to justify the costs of repealing or weakening dozens of climate change regulations according to a July 14, 2020 New York Times report.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, said the Trump administration estimated the harm that global warming will cause future generations to be seven times lower than previous federal estimates. Reducing that metric, known as the “social cost of carbon,” from $50 to $7 per metric ton has helped the administration massage cost-benefit analyses, particularly for rules that allow power plants and automobiles to emit more planet-warming carbon dioxide.
Every ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere imposes a cost on the economy, whether from damage to infrastructure from sea level rise and heat waves or harm to public health. But calculating the price of that damage has been economically challenging and politically contentious.
“Climate change is a massive threat to our economy. That threat will only grow in years to come, even if we take the action necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, one of eight Democrats who requested the review.
Conservatives have argued that the valuation serves to make big energy projects look bad and lays the foundation for burdensome and costly industry regulations. Many Republicans said that the Obama administration’s estimates — which in 2016 determined the social cost of carbon to be about $50 a ton by 2020 — were unrealistic and intentionally onerous. When the Trump administration put forward its own rules to regulate emissions from power plants and vehicles, it estimated the cost of climate damages between $1 and $7 per ton of carbon.
The G.A.O. found the administration used two main avenues to push the numbers down. It only factored in damages that would occur within the United States rather than around the globe. It also used an economic calculation, known as the discount rate, in a way that assumes society should not pay much now to prevent harm from climate change to future generations.
“As a result, the current federal estimates, based on domestic climate damages, are about seven times lower than the prior federal estimates that were based on global damages,” the report found.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
What this means to you
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released July 14, 2020 found the Trump administration set a rock-bottom price on the damages done by greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the government to justify the costs of repealing or weakening dozens of climate change regulations. The report said the Trump administration estimated the harm that global warming will cause future generations to be seven times lower than previous federal estimates.
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