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Biden Hikes The Cost Of Carbon Pollution, With Consequences For Fossil Fuel Development

WildEarth Guardians
Flickr Creative Commons

The Biden administration announced Friday that it's overhauling how it calculates the economic toll of greenhouse gas emissions, a change that could result in agencies placing tighter restrictions on oil, gas and coal producers in the Mountain West.


The so-called social cost of carbon jumps to $51 a ton, up from $8 a ton under the Trump administration.

The new estimate enables federal agencies to "immediately and more appropriately account for climate impacts in their decision-making while we continue the process of bringing the best, most up-to-date science and economics to the estimation of the social costs of greenhouse gases," as Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, wrote in a blog post announcing the change.

Mark Squillace, a professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado Boulder, says the higher cost could mean fewer permits granted for fossil fuel companies.

"We use these numbers to calculate, 'OK, what is the societal cost that you're imposing on the world to go forward with this oil and gas operation?' And so that could certainly force the government's hand in terms of stricter regulation of that facility and maybe even denying a permit for that facility."

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican, panned the new valuation as a "backdoor carbon tax."

The Washington Post reports that the Biden administration could peg the social cost of carbon as high as $125 per ton once it conducts a more thorough analysis.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Nate Hegyi is a roving regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at Nevada Public Radio. You can reach him at natehegyi@protonmail.com.