Today at 10 am ET, the House Subcommittees on Environment and Oversight will hold a hearing on the social cost of carbon (SCC). The SCC is a figure that represents the damage done to public health and the environment by the burning of fossil fuels — currently around $40 per ton. It underpins at least 150 regulations across different federal agencies and can play a part in everything from what power plants get built to energy efficiency in new appliances, making it a prime target for the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back climate change policies put in place under President Obama. This is likely the beginning of that long-term effort.
The committees will hear from:
- University of Chicago economist Dr. Michael Greenstone, who was a central figure in implementing the social cost of carbon, in addition to three polluter-friendly sources.
- Dr. Ted Gayer, an economist formerly of the Exxon and industry-funded group AEI and now of the Brookings Institute, was involved in a case in Minnesota last year involving the SCC. Gayer was one of many witnesses who argued unsuccessfully on behalf of industry against using the federal social cost of carbon.
- Also in opposition to the rigorous scientific underpinning the SCC will be Dr. Patrick Michaels of the Koch-founded and funded Cato Institute. Dr. Michaels has admitted in the past that around 40 percent of his funding comes from the oil industry.
- The fourth speaker is Dr. Kevin Dayaratna of the Heritage Foundation, another Koch and industry-funded group.
Due to the complexity of the social cost of carbon, the arguments are apt to be highly technical. They could range from weighing the domestic and international benefits of emission reductions discussed by Gayer in the past, to using Michael’s denial of the record-setting warmth we are experiencing as a result of human activity as an excuse to weaken or ignore the SCC, or Dayaratna’s non-peer-reviewed economic modeling (which uses a discount rate significantly higher than mainstream economists in order to artificially dampen the calculated benefits of climate action).
- Dr. Greenstone and Cass Sunstein explained the origin of the federal social cost of carbon last December in an op-ed in the New York Times.
- Yale economist Dr. Michael Kotchen published an overview of the SCC and its use last week in an op-ed in TIME.
- Dr. John Abraham provided expert testimony in a Minnesota case upholding the SCC and is an expert at rebutting climate denial arguments.
- Climate Nexus has a quick backgrounder on the SCC, with external resources and examples.
- Carbon Brief has recently published an in-depth explainer and timeline with lots of helpful information
- The National Academies published a report in January on the scientific process that should be used to adjust the social cost of carbon to keep it in line with evolving science. This provides a benchmark for the correct process for updating the SCC, against which future changes can be measured.
- A plain-language explanation of the 2016 decision by a Minnesota judge to let the state’s utility industry use the federal SCC for planning, which was contested unsuccessfully by various energy and industrial sources. More technical information here.