Feds shine more light on carbon cost estimates

WASHINGTON — Giving in to demands from the oil industry, business groups and their allies on Capitol Hill, the Obama administration on Tuesday formally released the calculations behind its new estimate of the social costs tied to emitting carbon dioxide.

The public now has 60 days to look at the data and weigh in on the new metric, which is used to evaluate the cost and benefits of proposed regulations. The deadline for submitting comments is Jan. 27.

The once little-known calculation aims to put a price tag on damage from emitting a ton of greenhouse gases, including lost agricultural productivity, human health impacts and more floods. A government working group in May bumped up the price tag to $38 per ton in 2015, up from a 2010 estimate of $23.80 — a decision that ultimately could lift the projected economic benefits of proposed environmental regulations.

Lawmakers who wanted more sunlight on the social cost of carbon calculations praised the White House for opening the documents but said the public needs more time to vet them.

In a letter set to be sent to the Office of Management and Budget later today, more than a dozen lawmakers are asking for a 120-day comment period — a time “long enough for stakeholders to provide meaningful comments.”

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“A 120-day comment period is required to perform legal and economic analysis on the assumptions underlying the social cost of carbon calculation including discount rates and technological innovation and its deployment,” says the letter spearheaded by Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V. “Providing stakeholders with adequate time to run cost models and file substantive comments will provide a more meaningful review of the benefit-cost analysis employed in determining the social cost of carbon.”

Other letter signers include Texas Republicans Pete Olson and Steve Stockman, as well as Houston Democrat Gene Green.

Critics have been eager to get a closer look at the three underlying models used to generate the economic damage from emitting a ton of carbon dioxide, which produced widely ranging estimates that were then averaged for the final figure and forecast out over decades.

The American Petroleum Institute, America’s Natural Gas Alliance and other organizations filed a petition in September blasting the calculations as “little more than indefensible guesses” and asking the government to redo the number-crunching through a “transparent, public process.”

In a Federal Register notice on Tuesday, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Howard Shelanski stressed that the current social cost of carbon estimate “has been developed over many years, using the best science available, and with input from the public.” The May 2013 estimates are similar to values used by other governments, international institutions and major corporations, Shelanski said.

Letter to OMB Re Social Cost of Carbon (26 November 2013)