State Environmental Reports on CO2 and Snake River Dams Contradicted by Own Sources » Publications » Washington Policy Center


What do government agencies do when their conclusions are based on studies that prove to contradict them? In Washington State, we are about to find out.

In two recent taxpayer-funded reports on high-profile environmental policies — the state’s new tax on CO2 emissions and the potential destruction of the Snake River dams — cited studies on key issues say the exact opposite of what is described. These errors, whether intentional or accidental, significantly compromise the conclusions of these reports.

They also question the reliability of environmental reports from Washington state officials.

Snake River dams report misquotes salmon survival study

The recent, taxpayer-funded Murray/Inslee report on the Snake River dams argues that the dams are hurting salmon returns, saying the river’s courses are particularly worse than those in the region. The report claims that the percentage of smolts that later return as adults to spawn, known as the return smolt-to-adult (SAR) ratio is lower than in other rivers. This is used as a key argument to argue for the destruction of dams.

The report’s authors write, “While many West Coast salmon populations do not meet these SAR goals, Snake River salmon SARs are among the lowest.” The source they offer for this claim is a 2020 study by Welch et al. called, “A Coastwide Synthesis of West Coast Chinook Salmon Survival Decline.” I was surprised to see this study cited because it says something quite different.

A quick glance at the study’s abstract reveals this sentence: “…SARs of Snake River populations, often referred to as examples of low survival, are not exceptional and in fact higher than estimates reported from many other western regions coast lack of dams” (emphasis added).

This is the exact opposite of the Murray/Inslee relationship.

The report’s authors, who used $375,000 of taxpayers’ money to compile their report, either didn’t read the study they cited or hoped no one would notice the misrepresentation in the findings of their own. report. The claim about SARs is key to assessing the impact of dams and this error is extremely troubling.

Ecological assessment of climate change edits quote to hide true meaning

As part of the implementation of the new state tax on CO2 emissions, the Washington State Department of Ecology released its preliminary assessment the costs and benefits of the policy. This evaluation found that the benefits outweigh the costs. One of the reasons they came to this conclusion is that they placed a high value on the future impacts of climate change using a low discount rate of 2.5%.

A discount rate is used to compare future impacts to those of today. The rate helps us decide whether it is worth spending $1 today to avoid $5 many years from now. A high discount rate would indicate that spending today is better. A low discount rate indicates that it is better to save or spend to avoid future damage.

This is essential because the choice of a discount rate makes a big difference in how we assess the damage caused by CO2 emissions. The difference between choosing a 5% or 2.5% discount rate has a huge impact on the estimated damage caused by each metric ton (MT) of CO2, known as the social cost of carbon ( SCC). If the discount rate is 2.5%, the damages are $76 per MT. If it is 5%, the amount drops to just $14 according to the US EPA.

Defending their decision to choose 2.5% – which carries a very high potential for damage from climate change – the authors of the Ecology report say “federal CCS was found to be ‘reasonable and the best metric available to determine cost. environment of CO2 “in 2016”. Like the Snake River Dams report, a source is cited for this claim: the finding of an administrative law judge as reported by the Minnesota State Office of Administrative Hearings.

What makes a Minnesota administrative judge the definitive source for whether the federal social cost of carbon is “reasonable”? They don’t explain. Any port in a storm, I guess.

There are, however, two big problems with using this source.

Reading the actual text of the ruling reveals that the judge is not just approving a 2.5% discount rate as claimed by Ecology staff. Instead, it supports using a range of rates. The ruling notes, “The administrative law judge respectfully recommends that the Commission adopt the federal social cost of carbon as reasonable and the best available measure for determining the environmental cost of CO2, establishing a range of values ​​including the 2.5%, 3.0% and 5% discount rate. Once again, the source cited by government staff says something very different.

The authors of the Ecology report also argue that their very low discount rate is acceptable because “uncertainties” around rare but very high impact results could push the SCC even higher, which would make 2.5% reasonable. Again, the judge’s ruling — cited by Ecology — rejects that argument, saying the SCC used by Minnesota should exclude the discount rate that includes the risk of extremely rare outcomes, called the “95th percentile at a discount rate.” 3% discount.

I’m not sure if the judgment of a Minnesota administrative law judge should be credited above the others, but I haven’t singled out the source. The staff of the Ministry of Ecology did.

As with the Snake River dams study, they either didn’t know what their source had actually said, or they were intentionally misleading.

There is evidence for the latter.

Ecology staff truncated the sentence from the Minnesota report to leave out some key words. The inclusion of the words after the portion quoted by Ecology shows that the quote indicates that Federal CCS is “reasonable and the best available measure for determining the environmental cost of CO2 under Minnesota Stat. § 216B.2422 …” (emphasis added). The report is an assessment of whether federal CSC can be used to satisfy Minnesota law, not whether it is the best of all options or the best for Washington State. By excluding these words, Ecology staff intentionally hides the context of the quote.

The choice of a discount rate of 2.5% is not insignificant. Even going to 3% would reduce the benefits of reduced CO2 emissions by a third. Ecology staff deliberately chose the discount rate that generated the highest benefits from the CO2 emissions tax. If they had followed the advice of their own source, the CO2 tax would have cost more than the benefits it brought, a devastating result for politics.

How will the Ministry of Ecology and the Inslee administration handle these major errors? The comment period for both reports is currently open, and we will share these errors with the responsible agencies. It will then be up to the agencies to address the issues and show whether these reports are a sincere effort to find the truth or just a facade to reach a predetermined conclusion.

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