Energy & Environment

Biden returns to Obama-era greenhouse gas calculation

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The Biden administration announced Friday that it will temporarily return to an Obama-era method for calculating benefits to the climate when it makes regulatory decisions. 

A blog post on the White House’s website says that it is replacing the prior administration’s estimates for the “social cost of greenhouse gases” with those developed “prior to 2017.”

This will give much greater weight to the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when the agency completes regulatory cost-benefit analyses. 

The Obama administration determined that the social cost of carbon is $50 per metric ton, while the Trump administration valued it at $7 per metric ton. 

The blog post, attributed to Council of Economic Advisers member Heather Boushey, noted that it will also adjust for inflation. 

It did not directly state how much the adjusted figure would be, but Bloomberg reported that it will be $51. 

The Biden administration said that it was choosing to return to the Obama-era greenhouse gas estimates for the time being because those estimates “were subject to an extensive and robust process” that included public notice and comment and used peer-reviewed studies 

It also noted that unlike the Trump estimate, it took international impact estimates into account. They also chose it because it used an approach to calculating the present value of future damage that was established by a team of experts established by the Obama administration and disbanded by the Trump administration. 

President Biden reestablished the team, called the Interagency Working Group, and charged it with publishing final social costs of carbon, nitrous oxide and methane by January 2022.

The move was met with swift backlash from Republicans. 

“The administration is laying the traps to justify punishing new regulations,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in a statement. “Since the president can’t rationalize the crippling costs of his climate policies, he needs to exaggerate the benefits.”

But environmentalists argued that returning to the Obama calculation would result in a fuller accounting of the harms caused by climate change.

“This interim estimate is an appropriate first step in providing improved tools to account for the massive economic damage wrought by climate change—including from droughts, wildfires, rising ocean levels and the ever-growing extreme weather events that destroy lives and property,” Starla Yeh, director of the policy analysis group in the Climate & Clean Energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said a statement.

Updated: 5:47 p.m.

Tags biden administration Heather Boushey Joe Biden John Barrasso
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