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Report: $300B in annual benefits left on the table if climate regulations cut

A new report from the Columbia Law School attempting to tackle a perception that climate change-related regulations will impose excessive costs on regulated industries and society has found that such regulations would produce around $300 billion in net benefits annually by the year 2030.

Columbia Law School's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law examined the cumulative impacts of the Clean Power Plan, motor vehicle emissions standards for light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles, new source performance standards for the oil and gas sector, and a methane waste prevention rule for the oil and gas sector. President Donald Trump has ordered his cabinet to review and roll back many of those regulations as part of his deregulation agenda.

The estimates were updated by the Sabin Center and reflect the regulatory impact analyses issued with each rule by the federal regulating agency. All of the rules combined in 2030 would create $286.9 billion in annual net benefits while reducing greenhouse gases by 980 million metric tons of carbon equivalent. The rules also offer significant co-benefits by reducing pollutants not specifically targeted by each regulation, such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxides. The rules would prevent 3,345 premature deaths and 151,600 lost work days, the report found.

"The overall benefits of the federal greenhouse gas emission standards ... vastly outweigh the costs of implementing those standards," the report said.

The Clean Power Plan, which set emissions standards on existing fossil fuel power plants, would have net monetized benefits of $7 billion annually in 2020 and then rise to $46 billion annually in 2030, while reducing approximately 74 million metric tons of carbon in 2020 and 375 million metric tons of carbon in 2030, according to analysis of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's projections.

The new source performance standards for the oil and gas sector targeted methane, volatile organic compounds and toxic air pollutants from new, reconstructed, and modified oil and gas sources. The Sabin Center report shows the EPA projected annual net benefits of $37 million in 2020 and $180 million in 2025, which is a much smaller margin than the other rules examined. The EPA determined that the rule would result in a methane reduction of 300,000 short tons in 2020 and 510,000 short tons in 2025.

The Sabin Center study recalled that the Bureau of Land Management determined that its methane waste prevention rule would produce annual net benefits of approximately $126 million in 2020 and $197 million in 2025, while reducing methane emissions by approximately 177,000 short tons in 2020 and 179,000 short tons in 2025. The benefits included the revenue from sales of recovered natural gas.

The EPA's numbers reflect the social cost of carbon, a metric for determining the cost of each ton of carbon emitted, which the authors say is "at risk" under the Trump administration. Trump disbanded an interagency working group on the social cost of greenhouse gases with a March executive order and withdrew technical documents associated with the metric.

The Sabin Center also cited other reports that have looked at the costs and benefits associated with greenhouse gas regulations. For the Clean Power Plan, environmental groups and independent researchers tended to affirm the EPA's Clean Power Plan analysis while reports by conservative-leaning groups or industry groups predicted fewer benefits and even higher compliance costs.

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