By Michael Greenstone and Cass R. Sunstein
Last week, Donald J. Trump’s transition team sent a startling questionnaire to the Department of Energy. Among other things, the questionnaire asked for the names of all employees and contractors who attended meetings of the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon, as well as all emails associated with those meetings, and the department’s “opinion” on the underlying issues — a request it essentially refused.
Though Mr. Trump’s transition team later said that the questionnaire was sent in error, it should be understood in tandem with a memorandum, leaked last week, from Thomas Pyle, the leader of the transition’s energy team and president of the American Energy Alliance, which promotes “free market” policies. Mr. Pyle described the steps the Trump administration will probably take to reduce environmental regulations, including “ending the use of the social cost of carbon in federal rule makings.”
If that happens, it will defy law, science and economics.
In 2009, the two of us — one from the Council of Economic Advisers and the other from the Office of Management and Budget — convened the first meetings of the working group to which the questionnaire referred. Our aim was to quantify the social cost of carbon for the United States government by drawing from the latest research in science and economics. This comprehensive measure would reflect the monetary cost of the damage caused by the release of an additional ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accounting for the destruction of property from storms and floods, declining agricultural and labor productivity, elevated mortality rates and more…