After Pope’s Speech, House Turns to Bill That Bars Tallying “Social Cost” of Carbon

GOP bill would keep monetary impact of emissions out of environmental reviews, permit decisions.

Bloomberg AFP/Getty
Sept. 24, 2015, 5 a.m.

Con­gress will wel­come Pope Fran­cis with open arms Thursday, but the hours after his speech will likely bring fresh evid­ence that his calls for cli­mate-change ac­tion are un­likely to al­ter House GOP policy goals.

Later Thursday, the House is slated to be­gin de­bat­ing GOP le­gis­la­tion to stream­line en­vir­on­ment­al ana­lyses and per­mit de­cisions for pro­jects “un­der­taken, re­viewed, or fun­ded by Fed­er­al agen­cies.”

Tucked in­to the bill, called the Rap­id Act, is a cli­mate-re­lated pro­vi­sion: It bars con­sid­er­a­tion of the “so­cial cost of car­bon” in en­vir­on­ment­al re­views and per­mit de­cisions un­der the Na­tion­al En­vir­on­ment­al Policy Act and oth­er laws.

The “so­cial cost of car­bon” is a met­ric that reg­u­lat­ors use to as­sess the mon­et­ary im­pact of in­creases in car­bon emis­sions, such as dam­ages from great­er flood risks and changes in ag­ri­cul­tur­al pro­ductiv­ity.

Re­pub­lic­ans and in­dustry groups such as the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute have for years been at­tack­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s use of the met­ric, ar­guing the es­tim­ate was craf­ted through an opaque pro­cess.

But the latest le­gis­lat­ive as­sault will come on the heels of a high-pro­file pap­al speech to Con­gress that’s likely to in­clude calls for stronger ac­tion to con­front glob­al warm­ing.

While the bill is hardly a re­ac­tion to the pope’s vis­it, the pro­vi­sion is an ex­ample of the gulf between ad­voc­ates of stronger ac­tion on cli­mate change and Re­pub­lic­ans, many of whom dis­pute the sci­entif­ic con­sensus on glob­al warm­ing or say that White House car­bon-cut­ting policies will hurt the eco­nomy.

Pope Fran­cis is­sued a lengthy, widely cir­cu­lated doc­u­ment, called an en­cyc­lic­al, on cli­mate and the en­vir­on­ment in June.

In re­marks on the South Lawn of the White House Wed­nes­day, the Pope said that “cli­mate change is a prob­lem that can no longer be left to a fu­ture gen­er­a­tion.”

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