GOP Senators Slam 'Significant Change' to Carbon Costs

Thursday, 20 Jun 2013 03:07 PM

By Dan Weil

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Senate Republicans are unhappy with the Obama administration's increase in its estimate of the economic benefit of carbon regulations.

Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are concerned that the increase will be used by President Barack Obama to justify new climate change restrictions, The Hill reports.

In May, without fanfare, the administration boosted its estimate of "social cost" of carbon pollution to $36 per ton of carbon dioxide from $22 previously. The social cost puts a dollar value on the health, property, and other damage caused by carbon emissions.

The Republican senators are upset that the increase wasn't discussed publicly before being put in place.

"This is a significant change to an already highly controversial estimate, and as such requires transparency, open debate, and an adherence to well-understood and previously agreed-upon rules," the GOP senators on the Environment Committee, led by ranking member David Vitter of Louisiana, wrote in a letter to the Energy Department and other executive branch bodies.

The senators said they wanted an explanation about the process used to increase the cost estimate by July 2.

When it comes to the cost forecast, "as you are aware, the [social cost of carbon] estimate is crucial to the administration’s climate change agenda because the higher the number, the more benefits can be attributed to costly environmental regulations and standards," the GOP senators wrote.

"In addition to real and ongoing concerns about the lack of openness and transparency throughout this administration, we are troubled by any characterization of the reworked interagency estimate as relatively minor," they said.

The letter comes as Obama prepares to implement new rules curbing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

Heather Zichal, the White House coordinator for energy and climate change, said that Obama will announce new steps on climate control in the next few weeks.

The administration's plans include measures that don't require congressional action, such as pushing energy efficiency standards for appliances, clean-energy production on public lands, and regulations to curb carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants, Zichal said Thursday.

Obama "is serious about making it a second-term priority," Zichal said at a forum sponsored by the New Republic magazine. "The president is very focused on commonsense measures" to deal with the threat, she said.

The administration has already started the process of curbing emissions from new power plants. "But imposing carbon standards on the existing utility fleet would be vastly more costly and contentious," according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology took issue with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz over climate change at a hearing Tuesday, telling the former MIT physicist that many elements of climate science are open to question.

Several Republicans quizzed Moniz as to how much climate change stems from human activity, as opposed to natural fluctuation. "Is there any way to estimate what percent? Is it 50 percent, 90 percent of human activities?" Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican asked, according to Politico. Moniz said he doesn't know the precise percentage.

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