Chamber: Costs of EPA climate rule could top $50 billion a year

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The country’s largest business lobby warned Wednesday that the Obama administration’s proposal to impose new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants could eclipse $50 billion in annual costs through 2030.

The new study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce comes ahead of the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned rollout of draft regulations at the center of President Obama's climate change initiative.

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Obama announced the push last year, declaring that he would not wait for the bitterly divided Congress to pass legislation to counter the effects of global warming.

“Congress is being bypassed and this is the path that we’re on, which its why we sought to analyze this,” said Karen Harbert, president of the Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.

The intitute's report concludes that the forthcoming regulations could diminish the nation’s coal-fired energy capabilities by a third, as plants unable to meet the new standards shutter. Coal currently represents roughly 40 percent of the country’s energy production, and is a major part of the employment picture in many states, including West Virginia, Kentucky, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.

The Chamber’s study says as many as 224,000 jobs would be eliminated annually through 2030 under the proposal.

The EPA bristled at the report, saying it is unfounded and based on speculation, since the details of the proposal would not be made public until next week.

“Critics have tried for years to convince people that more pollution equals more jobs and a better economy, but history has proved them wrong over and over again,” agency spokeswoman Liz Purchia said. “EPA has been around for more than 40 years; and throughout our history we've cut pollution by 70 percent while the economy has doubled.”

The Chamber report is based on the framework of a proposal offered by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a major proponent of the plan. The NRDC is poised to issue its own, competing report, which is expected to draw starkly different conclusions — including predictions of more jobs, and major public health benefits.

Purchia pointed to the ever-increasing price tag associated with natural disasters linked to climate change.

“The fact is, the cost of inaction on climate is the real drain on our economy,” she said. “More of our dollars are going to more devastating storms, rising sea levels raise the cost of keeping our drinking water clean and extreme heat and wildfires destroy towns and hurt local economies and businesses that depend on tourism.”

Yet the Chamber report suggests higher power bills and smaller cash reserves for Americans.

If the regulations are enacted, consumers would have to pay an estimated $289 billion more for electricity and their disposable income would decrease by $586 billion, according to the report.

The EPA regulations, though, would reduce overall emissions by just 1.8 percent, during a period when global carbon emissions are expected to rise by nearly a third, the Chamber said.

“Our analysis shows that Americans will pay significantly more for electricity, see slower economic growth and fewer jobs, and have less disposable income, while a slight reduction in carbon emissions will be overwhelmed by global increases,” Harbert said.

The administration, and perhaps the president himself, is expected to unveil its proposal for emission limits on Monday.

This story was updated with additional information at 12:10 p.m.