Two weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency lowered its estimate of the cost of climate change, another government agency is pushing back.
The Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan federal watchdog agency that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars and reports to Congress, issued a report Tuesday urging the government to take the costs of climate change seriously. The EPA, on the other hand, recently determined that carbon pollution doesn’t cost society much.
Two years in the making, the GAO’s report comes months after a series of hurricanes ravaged the southeast and Puerto Rico, and wildfires burned over hundreds of thousands of acres in California — all of which will cost billions in recovery dollars. Over the last ten years, the report pegs the cost of natural disasters at $350 billion — an estimate which doesn’t include the tens of billions in damage caused by this seasons storms and fires.It does, however, note that “those costs will likely rise as the climate changes.”
Citing a November 2016 study from the Office of Management and Budget, the report also estimates that federal costs associated with climate change could rise from $12 billion per year today to $35 billion per year by 2050 — and up to $112 billion per year by the end of the century.
The EPA, meanwhile, recently recalculated what it calls the “social cost of carbon,” a metric that puts a price tag on how much a ton of carbon emissions hurts society. Taking an optimistic view, the agency slashed its estimate — from around $50 per metric ton in 2020 to somewhere between $1 and $6 per metric ton. But in 2014, the GAO checked the EPA’s math and found that the $50 per metric ton estimate added up.
A spokesperson for EPA said, “We continue to study and examine climate change, and we will review the GAO report.”
The GAO report notes, too, that agencies across the federal government haven’t worked together to put together long-term plans for climate change. President Donald Trump’s February executive order on “energy independence,” the report says, threw into question whether any planning for the ramifications of climate change would continue at all.
It also recommends that the White House, including the Council on Environmental Quality, take into account the costs of climate change in their report, though that seems unlikely — Trump just appointed Kathleen Hartnett White, who worked for an organization that sought to “explain the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” and has said that believing that global warming is real amounts to “a kind of paganism,” to head up that office.
Still, there’s hope for environmentalists — she hasn’t yet been confirmed by the Senate.