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THE SOCIAL COST OF CARBON, GREENHOUSE GAS POLICIES, AND POLITICIZED BENEFIT/COST ANALYSIS

December 19, 2018
By Benjamin Zycher

The social cost of carbon estimate developed by the Obama administration did not follow standard economic practices and instead was driven by political considerations of a preferred outcome.

This study finds: 

Benefit/cost analysis can be a powerful tool for examination of proposed (or alternative) public policies, but, unsurprisingly, decisionmakers’ policy preferences can drive the analysis, rather than the reverse. That is the reality with respect to the Obama Administration computation of the social cost of carbon, a crucial parameter underlying the quantitative analysis of its proposed climate policies, now being reversed in substantial part by the Trump Administration. The Obama analysis of the social cost of carbon suffered from four central problems: the use of global benefits in the benefit/cost calculation, the failure to apply a 7% discount rate as required by Office of Management and Budget guidelines, the conflation of climate and GDP effects of climate policies, and the inclusion of non-climate effects of climate policies as co-benefits, as a tool with which to overcome the trivial temperature and other climate impacts of those policies. Moreover, the Obama analysis included in its “market failure” analysis the fuel price parameter that market forces are likely to incorporate fully. This Article suggests that policymakers and other interested parties would be wise to concentrate on the analytic minutia underlying policy proposals because policy analysis cannot be separated from politics