Click here for free access to our latest coronavirus/COVID-19 research, commentary, and news.

Support nonprofit science journalism

Science’s extensive COVID-19 coverage is free to all readers. To support our nonprofit science journalism, please make a tax-deductible gift today.

U.S. regulators use a measure called the social cost of carbon to put a price tag on the damage caused by emitters, such as this power plant in Washington state.

Kid Clutch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Congressional watchdog agency to study social cost of carbon

Originally published by E&E News

An independent government watchdog has agreed to examine how the Trump administration uses the social cost of carbon, the metric used to calculate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) led a group earlier this month of seven Democratic senators asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine states' and other countries' use of the social cost of carbon, a calculation being used to repeal President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan.

GAO said it would begin its review in the coming months.

While most economists price around $40 for every ton of heat-trapping gas emitted, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt lowered the number to $1 per ton, a number Democrats worry could be used to undermine a slew of environmental regulations.

In the letter, Whitehouse and his fellow Democratic senators also asked GAO to look at what reasoning has been used to support various discount rates and the extent to which each is based on evolving factors such as interest rates and economic growth rates (E&E News PM, 5 December).

The letter was also signed by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

President Donald Trump earlier this year disbanded an interagency working group charged with calculating the metric, and Republican lawmakers have tried to follow suit.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Republicans urged EPA officials who are looking at repealing rules to examine ones that rely on either the social cost of carbon or co-benefits to justify the cost burdens on the economy.

Still, new research suggests even the higher cost calculated by the Obama administration could be too low. A study out of the University of California suggested that properly accounting for the impacts on agriculture could substantially raise estimates of how much global warming will cost the world in damages (Climatewire, 22 November).

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at

Earlier stories:

Trump’s attack on social cost of carbon could end up hurting his fossil fuel push

Despite Trump executive order, social cost of carbon still studied by federal agency

Trump team targets changes to key metric that calculates social cost of carbon