Washington — Putting his prestige on the line, President Barack Obama will personally commit the U.S. to a goal of substantially cutting greenhouse gases at next month’s Copenhagen climate summit. He will insist America is ready to tackle global warming despite resistance in Congress over higher costs for businesses and homeowners.
Obama will attend the start of the conference Dec. 9 before heading to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. He will “put on the table” a U.S. commitment to cut emissions by 17 percent over the next decade, on the way to reducing heat-trapping pollution by 80 percent by mid-century, the White House said.
Cutting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by one-sixth in just a decade would increase the cost of energy as electric utilities pay for capturing carbon dioxide at coal burning power plants or switch to more expensive alternatives. The price of gasoline likely would increase, and more fuel efficient automobiles — or hybrids that run on gasoline and electricity — likely would be more expensive.
Still, there is widespread disagreement over the cost to consumers.
Obama’s promise of greenhouse emissions cuts will require Congress to pass complex climate legislation that the administration says will include an array of measures to ease the price impact. The bills before Congress, for example, would have the government provide polluters free emissions allowances in the early years of the transition from fossil fuels, as well as direct payments to many consumers facing high costs.
And, supporters of emission reductions say, there would be clear long-term health and environmental benefits from shifting to a clean-energy economy.
Carol Browner, Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change, on Wednesday a cited a Congressional Budget Office study that said there would be a $173-a-year estimated cost to the average household by 2020 if greenhouse gases were cut by 17 percent by then from 2005 levels. But the CBO analysis also said that if the cost-blunting measures in the legislation were not taken into account, the cost to households could jump to $890 per household.
Other studies conducted by pro-industry groups have put the average household costs at $900 to more than $3,000 a year, although many of those studies do not take into account new energy conservation efforts and assume a more pessimistic view of new technology development that could bring actual consumer costs down.
But slashing carbon dioxide emissions also could save millions of lives, mostly by reducing preventable deaths from heart and lung diseases, according to studies published this week in the British medical journal The Lancet.