The Government’s Calculations Of The Cost Of Carbon Are Above Board, Says New Report

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"The Government’s Calculations Of The Cost Of Carbon Are Above Board, Says New Report"

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A new report from the government’s internal watchdog agency wholeheartedly endorses the way the White House calculated the total costs of carbon emissions.

On Monday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced it had found no evidence that the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) was improperly developed, according to reporting by The Hill.

The SCC is a metric put together by a government working group — convened by the Office of Management and Budget along with the Council of Economic Advisors — and is used to estimate the future damage a given ton of carbon dioxide emissions will do to the American economy by contributing to climate change. The SCC actually produces a range of estimates, which are used by agencies throughout the government to calculate the benefits of various regulations whenever they’re designing new rules or updating old ones. As such, the SCC is built into the designs of everything from new regulations for microwaves, to efficiency standards for federal buildings, to the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule to cut carbon emissions from power plants.

The working group put out their original SCC estimates in 2010, then updated them to higher numbers in 2013. That update sparked an outcry from Congressional Republicans that the SCC update was improper and indicative of the Obama Administration’s lack of transparency. So in August, several Republicans called on the GAO to investigate the SCC’s propriety.

The GAO’s report, which relied on interviews with more than 20 members of the working group, confirms the points made by the SCC’s defenders: that it was put together by a consensus-based approach, that it relied on three separate models developed outside the government by the scientific community to produce its estimates, and that all of these calculations are open to public comment and review. Furthermore, the 2013 update was not prompted by any change in the inputs the working group itself entered into the models, but rather by changes made to the structure of the models themselves by the scientific community’s ongoing peer-review process.

“None of the participants we spoke with expressed concerns about how their contributions were incorporated into the final Technical Support Document,” the GAO said, according to The Hill. “Many participants confirmed that the working group relied largely on existing academic literature and models to develop its estimates.”

At least one of the SCC’s critics was not placated, however.

“One thing is clear –- the Obama administration is using the social cost of carbon as a de facto carbon tax,” Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), one of the Republicans who called for the GAO investigation, said on Monday in a written statement reacting to the report. “They’re relying on the estimate to justify costly and controversial regulations, and this GAO report confirms its use is widespread and reaffirms concerns over the lack of transparency.”

It’s unclear how Vitter came to that latter conclusion. The GAO’s report specifically mentions that the working group disclosed the guts of its methodology, the limitations of its SCC estimates, and the places where additional research was needed in a technical support document available to the public. The working group also set itself the goal of revisiting the SCC estimates on a regular basis whenever the models it relied on are updated by the scientific community — a commitment that led to the 2013 update, for example. (And which came with its own technical support document.)

The GAO report makes no mention of transparency concerns, nor did it find any reason to recommend the working group change the way it does business.

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