Climate policy experts say EPA’s social cost of carbon estimates will likely trigger high-stakes litigation

David Bailey, former global climate policy manager of ExxonMobil (left), and David Bookbinder, former chief climate counsel of the Sierra Club, take questions during the first lecture in the Fall 2013 EENR Speaker Series.

David Bailey, former global climate policy manager of ExxonMobil (left), and David Bookbinder, former chief climate counsel of the Sierra Club, take questions during the first lecture in the Fall 2013 EENR Speaker Series.

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Oct. 18, 2013 – Leading experts on climate change policy agree that the social cost of carbon is a linchpin for future regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. David Bookbinder, former chief climate counsel of the Sierra Club, and David Bailey, former global climate policy manager for ExxonMobil, both spoke at the University of Houston Law Center on Wednesday to kick off the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center Fall Speaker Series.

The EPA and other federal agencies use the social cost of carbon (SCC) to estimate the climate benefits of rulemakings. The SCC is an estimate of the economic damages associated with a small increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, conventionally one metric ton, in a given year.

According to Bailey, calculating the social cost of carbon is different from tallying the benefits of other regulations.   It will face fundamental uncertainties over the amount of future emissions, climate sensitivity, extremely long time periods, and controversies over discount rates.  Most importantly, the benefits from reducing carbon emissions are reaped globally, but the costs of reducing them are borne locally.

“The big problem is every area has a huge uncertainty attached to it,” said Bailey.

Bookbinder noted that the EPA will rely on the new increased cost estimates for carbon emissions to justify sweeping new regulations on greenhouse gases from new and existing coal-fired power plants.  These rules, he said, will spark the first judicial test of the government’s social cost of carbon estimates.

“Normally, the agency wins. Courts do not overturn agency decisions. But this time around, they (EPA) are going to have to justify… the fact that arriving at a number did not come out of a public process. If there had been a process where public comment had been allowed, there would be less potential for challenge in court,” Bookbinder said.

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The EENR Center Speaker Series is made possible through the generous support of Connelly Baker & Wotring LLP, Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP. Bracewell & Giuliani LLP., Vinson & Elkins LLP, Porter & Hedges LLP, Blackburn Carter, P.C. , Kinder Morgan, and the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.

The next speaker in the EENR Fall series is Carlos Rubinstein, chairman of the newly reconstituted Texas Water Development Board. He will discuss “The Future of Texas Water Law and Policy” at noon on Oct. ober 28. The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, please email eenr@uh.edu.

David Bookbinder David Bailey
David Bookbinder David Bailey

 

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