Social Cost of Carbon Figure Too Low to Reflect Harms: Enviros

Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg

Smoke stack of a petrochemical refinery located along the Houston ship channel in Texas. Close

Smoke stack of a petrochemical refinery located along the Houston ship channel in Texas.

Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg

Smoke stack of a petrochemical refinery located along the Houston ship channel in Texas.

Bloomberg BNA – The Obama administration relied on outdated science that produced a social cost of carbon figure that is too conservative, environmental groups said Feb. 26.

The models used by the federal government to update the social cost of carbon figure, which federal agencies use to calculate the climate impact of proposed actions, have yet to include the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change data, producing a figure that does not reflect the actual cost of carbon emissions, Gernot Wagner, senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, told reporters Feb. 26.

“Those models are incorporating science that is in part over five years old,” he said.

In November 2013, federal agencies set the social cost of carbon at $37 per metric ton in 2007 dollars for 2015. That is up from the $24 per metric ton figure established in 2010. The White House said the increase was the result of better data input into the models. The social cost of carbon is used to calculate impacts such as the net effects on damaged property, agriculture and human health from extreme weather linked to climate change for each metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions.

The comment period on the revised social cost of carbon figure closed Feb. 26.

Environmental advocates argue that the federal government's figure does not reflect the full scope of harm caused by climate change. “This estimate should be regarded as the lower bound on the true number,” Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law, told reporters.

The Institute for Policy Integrity, Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council announced Feb. 26 that they had launched a new website,, to collect academic research on the social cost of carbon figure. The first report on damages not being accounted for in the federal government's estimate is expected in March, Revesz said.

The groups also submitted joint comments to the White House Office of Management and Budget urging the administration to include additional new models when it analyzes the cost of carbon dioxide emissions.

Lack of Transparency Cited

Republicans and business groups have criticized the administration's revised social cost of carbon figure. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the interagency working group that developed the revised figure lacked transparency.

“The administration will use social cost of carbon estimates to justify costly and controversial regulations, which is exactly why we need to make sure there is transparency with the process,” Vitter said in a Feb. 26 statement. “Aside from the EPA's Air and Radiation Office, the administration has kept the interagency working group's participants completely anonymous. The whole process needs to be much more transparent, starting with who's involved.”

At least 18 groups, including Koch Cos. Public Sector LLC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Exxon Mobil Corp., Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co., reported lobbying the federal government over the social cost of carbon number in 2013, disclosure reports show .

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