White House revisits ‘social cost of carbon’

The White House will seek new public comment on the “social cost of carbon" (SCC), a metric that helps regulators estimate the benefits of rules that cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) decision arrives amid criticism from industry groups and Republicans who say the Obama administration’s May 2013 upward revision of the SCC earlier lacked public input.

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The "social cost of carbon" has lately been a flashpoint in wider political and lobbying battles over White House's climate change policy, especially planned Environmental Protection Agency carbon standards for power plants.

Howard Shelanski, the top White House regulatory official, said in a blog post late Friday afternoon that the administration was making new changes to the estimate, and would launch a public comment period "in response to public and stakeholder interest."

“These updated values reflect minor technical corrections to the estimates we released in May of this year. For example, these technical corrections result in a central estimated value of the social cost of carbon in 2015 of $37 per metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2), instead of the $38 per metric ton estimate released in May,” wrote Shelanski.

“At the same time, in response to public and stakeholder interest in SCC values, OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) will provide a new opportunity for public comment on the estimates in addition to the public comment opportunities already available through particular rulemakings,” added Shelanski, who heads OIRA.

The SCC is an estimate of monetary damages from changes in agricultural productivity, human health, rising sea levels and flood risks and other effects of climate change.

Business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, have been challenging the revised estimate on various fronts.

In addition, the GOP-led House recently passed a bill that would prevent the EPA from using the metric in major energy rules.

Companies and trade groups, including Koch Industries, have also recently begun listing the topic in lobbying disclosure filings.

Shelanski, in his blog post, defended the White House process as he pledged to seek new comment, and noted the changes this year were based on improvements in the most widely cited climate economic impact models.

“In May of this year, after all three of the underlying models were updated and used in peer-reviewed literature, and agencies received public comments urging them to update their estimates, the interagency group released revised SCC values,” he writes.

“The May 2013 estimates reflect values that are similar to those used by other governments, international institutions, and major corporations. Those estimates have been out for public comment in several proposed rulemakings since May, and agencies have already received comments that are under review,” Shelanski writes.

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