WASHINGTON – A federal report released Tuesday found that the Trump administration set a rock-bottom price on the damage done by greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the government to justify the costs of repealing or weakening dozens of climate change regulations.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' nonpartisan investigative arm, said the Trump administration estimated the harm that global warming will cause future generations to be seven times lower than previous federal estimates. Reducing that metric, known as the "social cost of carbon," has helped the administration adjust cost-benefit analyses, particularly for rules that allow power plants and automobiles to emit more planet-warming carbon dioxide.
Critics described the Trump administration's move as turning a deliberate blind eye to the dangers of climate change.
"Climate change is a massive threat to our economy. That threat will only grow in years to come, even if we take the action necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, one of eight Democrats who requested the review.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the report.
Every ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere imposes a cost on the economy, whether from damage to infrastructure from sea level rise and heat waves or harm to public health. But calculating the price of that damage has been economically challenging and politically contentious.
Conservatives have argued that the valuation serves to make big energy projects look bad and lays the foundation for burdensome and costly industry regulations. Many Republicans said that the Obama administration's estimates — which in 2016 determined the social cost of carbon to be about $50 a ton by 2020 — were unrealistic and intentionally onerous.
The Trump administration has overhauled not just the regulations governing the economy but also the economic foundations that underpin those regulations. One of Trump's earliest moves was to order agencies to unwind Obama's climate policies and with them the social cost of carbon he had set.
When the Trump administration put forward its own rules to regulate emissions from power plants and vehicles, it estimated the cost of climate damage between $1 and $7 per ton of carbon.