Trump team targets key climate metric

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Science  16 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6318, pp. 1364-1365
DOI: 10.1126/science.354.6318.1364

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President-elect Donald Trump has made no secret of his intention to dramatically reshape U.S. climate and energy policy. He has named staunch allies of the fossil fuel industry to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the state and energy departments, and promised to walk away from international climate agreements. And last week a provocative leaked memo hinted at another likely element of the incoming administration's plan for weakening climate regulations: tweaking an obscure, but increasingly utilized, economic measure that tallies the costs and benefits of controlling carbon pollution. The leaked memo, which included 74 questions from Trump's Department of Energy (DOE) transition team to agency officials, caused a stir because it asked for the names of agency employees involved in developing climate policy. The transition team was silent on why it asked for the names, and DOE ultimately refused to provide them, but the move spurred fears that the new administration would seek to fire or punish those employees, and it drew condemnation from science advocacy groups and some lawmakers in Congress. Many of the other questions have a technical flavor, asking about DOE's role in developing the nitty-gritty statistical and economic data that often underpins regulatory efforts. One set of inquiries, for example, focuses on an economic measure called the social cost of carbon (SCC), which attempts to quantify the economic damage associated with carbon emissions and the climate change they drive. The measure has played a role in developing more than 100 regulations, and as economist Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago in Illinois, who served as a senior economic official in the Obama administration, puts it, "If you want to be hostile to climate regulations, the SCC is kind of a pivot joint."