EPA chief Scott Pruitt is using MAGA math to recalculate the social cost of greenhouse gas pollution, as a way to justify the repeal of the Clean Power Plan.
Following the Trump administration’s America First ethos, Pruitt’s “alternate analysis” drastically lowers the previous government estimate — because he’s only calculating for costs to the U.S. The government panel assembled in 2009 to figure the social cost of carbon calculated for global effects and put the cost of climate damage by 2020 at about $50 per metric ton of carbon. Pruitt’s analysis effectively slashes that figure to between $1 and $6 per metric ton, according to think tank Resources for the Future.
That figure comes from a complex set of calculations, taking into account public health factors, the costs of extreme weather events and a rising sea level, among other factors. And the Trump administration in March disbanded the group that made the calculations, through a little-noticed clause in the president’s executive order on climate change.
“[Pruitt’s recalculation] turns the analysis upside-down,” Steven A. Cohen, the executive director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and a professor of public policy. “The way that it had been done before, the cost of carbon was considered across the entire planet, because that’s where the carbon goes.”
The social cost of carbon allows policymakers to weigh the value of policies aimed at curbing climate change — the estimate was used, for instance, to justify the Clean Power Plan as cost-effective — but if there’s a lower cost-benefit for solutions to climate change, policymakers are less likely to see the value in those policies. It’s been used by the federal government to in more than 150 proposed and final regulatory measures, on everything from land-use decisions to standards for vehicle fuel efficiency to appliances’ efficiency standards, according to Resources for the Future.
In 2015, the U.S. emitted 6.6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases, according to the EPA.
The news that Pruitt’s EPA wants to drastically lower its estimation of the social cost of carbon comes the same week the administration announced plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan, claiming Obama’s EPA had drastically overestimated the benefits of the plan.
“The facts are that the Obama administration’s estimates and analysis of costs and benefits was, in multiple areas, highly uncertain and/or controversial,” an anonymous EPA spokesperson told VICE News in an email. “The previous administration compared domestic costs against its estimate of global climate benefits. … EPA is tasked with protecting the environment and human health of this nation, and our alternative analysis reflects that.”
The National Academy of Sciences, in their evaluation of the calculations in a January 2017 report, noted that the impacts of carbon emissions were global, “regardless of where they originate,” and so their estimations “have focused on total global damages, rather than the damages to an individual country such as the United States.”
And even the Obama administration’s calculations, which put the social cost of carbon at $45 per metric ton in 2020, some scientists saw as not going far enough. A 2015 study from researchers at Stanford University calculated the cost to be $220 per metric ton of carbon.