Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., revealed that the U.S. Government Accountability Office is studying how the Trump administration calculates the estimated climate costs of rulemakings and other decisions compared with the practices of other states and nations.
The social cost of carbon measures the impact of one ton of carbon emitted into the atmosphere and puts a dollar amount on the harm those emissions could cause to future generations. Federal agencies use estimates of the social cost of carbon to assess the climate impact of a rule or policy.
In a 2017 proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cut the social cost of a ton of carbon from about $51 to $1 for 2020. Environmental advocates decried the move, noting that many other nations and U.S. states adopt the U.S. federal formula.
Whitehouse and Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein of California in December 2017 asked the GAO to study the EPA move. They specifically asked the GAO to look at how states and other countries calculate the social costs of carbon, the Trump administration’s justification for changing the way it calculates that cost, and the rationales used to support various discount rates in assessing the social cost of carbon.
"Carbon pollution is triggering big changes," Whitehouse said in a June 13 news release. He added that the pollution is causing sea level rise, bigger wildfires, longer droughts, and is warming and acidifying the ocean. The climate change impacts "all come with a price tag — and we ought to know what that price will be."
Whitehouse is known for giving Senate floor speeches every week when Congress is in session on the topic of climate change.
The GAO is an independent agency that, at the request of congressional committees and lawmakers, performs audits, studies and investigations on a variety of topics aimed at aiding congressional oversight. Whitehouse said the GAO started studying the social cost of carbon in December.