The Environmental Protection Agency began marathon public hearings July 29 on its new climate-change plan. "This week," the Natural Resources Defense Council's Frances Beinecke predicted before the sessions, "we'll hear loud and clear that the American people are strongly behind the EPA's plans." Things were loud, anyway.
Industry groups, environmentalists and various other activists pushed alternate versions of reality. The EPA's proposed greenhouse-gas program "threatens to dismantle our nation's economy, fundamentally alter the American way of life and severely hamper U.S. energy independence and leadership," according to Lauren Sheehan of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Those on the other side of the debate argued that those sorts of things would happen without strong efforts to slash greenhouse emissions. Punctuating the point, the Moms Clean Air Task Force brought children to EPA headquarters to protest the spoiling of the planet for future generations.
In this ongoing back and forth, the Obama administration has tried to produce specific numbers to justify its plan. In June, the EPA calculated that the various benefits of its new anti-carbon rules both in terms of fighting global warming and in terms of cleaner air outstrip the inevitable costs many times over. On Tuesday, the Council of Economic Advisers released a separate analysis finding that each decade action on carbon emissions is delayed increases the cost of meeting carbon targets by 41 percent, and that acting in a timely manner is economically worthwhile even if some countries have not yet committed to cutting their emissions. Yet high levels of uncertainty about the economic consequences of unabated climate change, how energy technology will develop and other important factors make these estimates more general indications than precise outlines of the relevant economic considerations.