The Biden administration’s crackdown on methane leaks from oil wells is based in part on a new powerful policy tool that could strengthen its legal authority to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the entire economy — including from cars, power plants, factories and oil refineries.

New limits on methane, announced Saturday by the Environmental Protection Agency during the COP28 climate talks in Dubai, take aim at just one source of climate warming pollution. Methane, which spews from oil and gas drilling sites, is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to heating the atmosphere in the short term.

But within the language of the methane rule, E.P.A. economists have tucked a controversial calculation that would give the government legal authority to aggressively limit climate-warming pollution from nearly every smokestack and tailpipe across the country.

The number, known as the “social cost of carbon,” has been used since the Obama administration to calculate the harm to the economy caused by one ton of carbon dioxide pollution. The metric is used to weigh the economic benefits and costs of regulations that apply to polluting industries, such as transportation and energy.

As scientists have increasingly been able to link planetary warming to wildfires, floods, droughts, storms and heat waves, estimates of the social cost of carbon have grown more sophisticated.

The higher the number, the greater the government’s justification for compelling polluters to reduce the emissions that are dangerously heating the planet. During the Obama administration, White House economists calculated the social cost of carbon at $42 a ton. The Trump administration lowered it to less than $5 a ton. Under President Biden, the cost was returned to Obama levels, adjusted for inflation and set at $51.

The new estimate of the social cost of carbon, making its debut in a legally binding federal regulation, is almost four times that amount: $190 a ton.

E.P.A. officials say they intend to use that figure in all the agency’s climate regulations moving forward.

“This is an enormous victory — this rocks. It’s awesome!” said Michael Greenstone, the Obama administration economist who first came up with the idea of using the social cost of carbon to create an economic justification for climate policy.

Continue reading on The New York Times…

Areas of Focus: Climate Change
Climate Change
Climate change is an urgent global challenge. EPIC research is helping to assess its impacts, quantify its costs, and identify an efficient set of policies to reduce emissions and adapt...
Climate Law & Policy
Climate Law & Policy
As countries around the world implement policies to confront climate change, EPIC research is calculating which policies will have the most impact for the least cost.