Fuzzy Math: The Climate Action Council’s $260 Billion Mistake

Chief among a public servant’s responsibilities to their constituents is to be truthful about the policies they are enacting—but New York’s Climate Action Council is misleading the public about the benefits of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). What they’re not saying is that more than half of the benefits will go out of state.

At each of the Council’s public comment hearings so far this year, the Council has told New Yorkers that the benefits they’ll derive from this law will outweigh the costs. That is false by the Council’s own numbers. The CLCPA will cost residents of the state over $100 billion more than it provides them in benefits.

The Council may not be intentionally misleading residents. It may have failed to consider carefully the math. And to be fair, it’s all a bit confusing, because the details aren’t laid out all in one place.

A full cost-benefit analysis of the CLCPA is overdue, but here are some rudimentary calculations to get started. The Climate Action Council had consultants prepare an analysis that concluded that the CLCPA provides up to $420 billion in benefits while costing between $280 and $340 billion. That means the net benefits are estimated at $80 billion to $140 billion—and these are the numbers the Council is reporting to the public.

But that’s not the whole story. While all the costs fall on New Yorkers, more than half of the purported benefits go out of state.

Over 60 percent—$260 billion—of the benefits are global benefits of the CLCPA. That means they benefit people in other states and countries, including ones like China and India that are still building coal-fired power plants and increasing their rate of greenhouse gas emissions. This is because the dollar amount used to estimate that portion of the benefits is based on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s calculation of the social cost of carbon, and the text of the CLCPA requires that to be based on carbon’s global effect. In other words, the $260 billion in CLCPA benefit is just the dollar value of the global environmental damage believed to be caused by one ton of carbon dioxide multiplied that by the tons of carbon dioxide the CLCPA will prevent from being spewed into the atmosphere.

How much of that benefit goes to New York? It’s impossible to say. But New York contributes about four-tenths of one percent of global CO2 emissions, so let’s assume the state gets an equal share of the benefit. That comes out to $1.4 billion.

Add that to the $160 billion that remains after we subtract the $260 billion global benefit from the $420 billion total benefit and New York’s benefit from the CLCPA is only around $161.4 billion. And that comes at a cost of at least $280 billion, for a net loss of over $118 billion—at the low end. If the cost is really the higher number of $340 billion then the net loss is over $178 billion.

If New Yorkers want to pony up dozens of billions of dollars for the benefit of others, they can choose to do so. But to make an informed choice they need to know that most of the benefit goes out of state. The Climate Action Council must make both the benefits and the costs clear, so New Yorkers can make an informed decision.

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