Legal Alerts

Biden Administration Solicits Comments on Reinvigorating Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases Metrics

Washington, D.C. (May 13, 2021) - The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), acting on behalf of other White House offices and the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases (GHG), is requesting comments on a new Technical Support Document that would substantially increase the numerical values used to calculate estimates for the Social Cost of GHG. Introduced by the Obama Administration and slashed by the Trump Administration, these estimates are controversial and enormously important, as they will be used to assess the benefit-cost tradeoff to society of reductions or increases in allowable GHG emissions. The resulting social cost values will be incorporated into benefit-cost and environmental impact analyses associated with regulatory actions across the federal government and used to guide corporate disclosures on climate and greenhouse gas emissions. Comments are due by June 21, 2021.

The new steps implement an Executive Order (EO) signed on President Biden’s first day in office, which, among other actions, created the IWG and directed it to issue within 30 days an interim, updated set of values for three GHGs: carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide. On February 26, 2021, the IWG published a "Technical Support Document: Social Cost of Carbon, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide Interim Estimates under Executive Order 13990" with updated estimates reported in 2020 dollars. For purposes of comparison just using the Social Cost of Carbon, the new values range from 14 to 21 times those adopted by the Trump Administration.

In addition to seeking technical review of the updated estimates on the impacts on society of the three gases, the Administration seeks information on the following:

  • approaches to implementing the recommendations of a 2017 National Academy of Sciences report titled Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide;
  • advances in science and economics, including methodologies to take account of climate risk, environmental justice, and intergenerational equity, a term that encompasses providing for the preservation of natural resources and the environment for the benefit of future generations;
  • recommendations on incorporating the latest scientific and economic understanding of discount rates appropriate for intergenerational analysis when using the interim Technical Support Document estimates; and
  • comments on areas of federal government decision-making, budgeting, and procurement where the new estimates should be applied.

As noted, these issues carry with them a certain degree of controversy. A number of states have mounted a legal challenge to the January 2021 EO, although such a lawsuit is likely to be dismissed as premature, with more meaningful adjudication awaiting the use of these social cost estimates to justify actual regulations. Lewis Brisbois has experience working with technical consultants to develop robust comments on behalf of industry and business clients, focusing on foundational economic, technical, and legal issues that call for close scrutiny.

For more information, contact the authors of this alert. Visit our Environment, Land, & Natural Resources Law and Sustainability & ESG Practice pages for more alerts in this area.


Karen C. Bennett, Partner

Jane C. Luxton, Managing Partner - Washington, D.C.

William J. Walsh, Partner

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