GOP senators slam ‘significant change’ to carbon costs

Senate Republicans say they are “troubled” by the Obama administration's move to increase the economic benefits of carbon regulations and fear the new formula will be used to justify climate change rules.


The administration quietly raised the figure for the "social cost" of carbon — which assigns a monetary value to health, property and other damage associated with carbon pollution — in May to $36 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted, up from $22. Officials cited new information on extreme weather and rising sea-levels as among the reasons for the change.

GOP members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said the increase should have been debated thoroughly in public before being implemented.

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“This is a significant change to an already highly controversial estimate, and as such requires transparency, open debate, and an adherence to well-understood and previously agreed-upon rules,” the GOP senators, led by committee ranking member David Vitter (R-La.), wrote in a letter to the Energy Department, White House Office of Management and Budget and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The GOP senators requested responses on the process behind revising the social cost of carbon by July 2.

The updated cost estimate, in essence, increases the benefits of potential carbon regulations, and comes as President Obama is ready to undertake more ambitious climate measures.

Heather Zichal, the president’s climate and energy adviser, said Obama's climate actions would be coming soon, and that the adminstration would first focus on finalizing emissions rules for new coal-fired power plants.

Republicans noted that the change to the carbon formula would have on the regulations.

“As you are aware, the SCC [social cost of carbon] estimate is crucial to the Administration’s climate change agenda because the higher the number, the more benefits can be attributed to costly environmental regulations and standards,” they wrote.

GOP lawmakers have previously requested more information from the EPA about what data it uses to craft its air- and water-pollution rules, which Republicans oppose as economically burdensome.

They said the administration’s decision to raise the social cost of carbon meant getting that information was all the more necessary.

“In addition to real and ongoing concerns about the lack of openness and transparency throughout this Administration, we are troubled by any characterization of the reworked interagency estimate as relatively minor,” they said.

Proponents of greenhouse gas curbs, meanwhile, are using the social cost of carbon revision to try and bolster their efforts.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told The Hill Wednesday that he wants his draft carbon tax legislation reviewed in light of the new figure.

Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in March floated a draft bill to impose carbon fees on industrial emissions sources like refineries and power plants.

The Rhode Island Democrat said Wednesday that he’s hoping to get the bill reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office or the Joint Committee on Taxation using the new figure.

— Ben Geman contributed to this report.

— This report was updated at 5:29 p.m.