President Joe Biden has begun reactivating Obama-era approaches for building climate change into federal policy, action that may soon revamp environmental regulation by establishing a much higher dollar value for greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
The White House will soon revisit values for the “social cost of carbon,” a figure that has been used to shape dozens of energy-related regulations. The Trump administration disbanded the interagency group responsible for the work and reduced the estimate to a small fraction of conventional values. Biden was widely expected to release an interim social cost estimate on Friday, but the White House instead published a Federal Register notice that governs how the federal government will conduct climate analysis in reviewing the environmental impact of government projects.
It signals a wider return to climate policy that will eventually reinstate a higher social cost of greenhouse gases. This pivotal figure attempts to estimate the money saved from avoiding each additional metric ton of the three most important planet-warming gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The social cost of carbon is used in federal benefit-cost analyses to account for damage caused by fossil fuel, capturing impacts from pollution that aren’t reflected in the market prices for gas, oil and coal.
Typically an obscure economic measure of climate change, the social cost of carbon occasionally escapes academic journals to play a central role in federal climate policy. A federal court ruled in 2007 that the White House had to consider the costs of climate change in rulemaking, and President Obama convened an interagency working group to identify a measure grounded in data and the mechanics of strict federal guidelines.