Climate Campaign Can’t Be Deaf to Economic Worries, Obama Warns

Source: By CORAL DAVENPORT, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014

WASHINGTON — President Obama acknowledged Wednesday that his efforts to combat climate change — in particular, Environmental Protection Agency regulations to slash carbon pollution from cars and coal-fired power plants — could raise fuel and electricity prices. And he told environmental advocates that in order to make a credible case for such climate policies, officials would need to acknowledge Americans’ worries about the economic effects.

“People don’t like gas prices going up; they are concerned about electricity prices going up,” Mr. Obama said in a speech at an annual dinner for the League of Conservation Voters. “If we’re blithe about saying, ‘This is the crisis of our time,’ but we don’t acknowledge these legitimate concerns — we’ve got to shape our strategies to address the very real and legitimate concerns of working families.”

Climate change remains among the few policy items he can push through without action from Congress, and the issue is likely to define the remainder of his time in office.

Mr. Obama also said Wednesday that he recognized that even as he pushed the United States to cut its carbon pollution, emissions were soaring in developing economies, particularly in India and China, as those nations seek to lift millions of people out of poverty.

“The trade-offs for them are tougher than for us unless we describe how development should leapfrog the old sources of energy,” the president said. He emphasized that the United States should take the lead in developing low-carbon sources of energy that would give poorer economies better access to electricity without increasing their carbon pollution.

At the State Department, diplomats are working toward a global carbon-cutting deal to be signed in 2015, and Mr. Obama said nations would be lured to the negotiating table if the United States managed to cut carbon pollution without hurting the domestic economy.

“When America proves what’s possible, other countries are going to come along,” he said.

Mr. Obama again mocked officials who question or deny the established science that human activity, particularly the burning of coal and oil, cause climate change.

“In communities, they may not know how big a problem climate change is, but they generally don’t say, ‘I don’t believe anything scientists say’ — except in Congress,” he said.

Democrats have increased attacks on Republicans who deny human involvement in climate change, seeing it as a winning political strategy. Polls by the League of Conservation Voters and other groups show that younger voters in particular associate candidates who deny climate science with being out of touch.

Just three weeks ago, Mr. Obama announced a landmark Environmental Protection Agency regulation aimed at slashing planet-warming carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. But the rule faces substantial legal, political and legislative attacks, and Republicans have criticized it as a “war on coal” that will drive up energy prices and eliminate jobs in the coal industry.

The administration has begun an aggressive public relations effort to help sell the new proposal to the public, and environmental groups are gearing up to back politicians who embrace the rule. A major part of that campaign will be to convince Americans that climate change poses as much of a threat to the nation’s economy as it does to the environment.

That effort was aided this week by the release of a report laying out the economic threats posed by human-caused climate change. The report, written by a team of economists and analysts, was financed by a bipartisan team of financiers — the billionaire Tom Steyer, who is campaigning to elect politicians who push climate policy; former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York; and Henry M. Paulson Jr., who served as Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush.

In particular, the report highlighted soaring costs for the insurance industry and taxpayers as more extreme storms batter the coasts, and the expenses that farmers and consumers will face as increased drought devastates farmland and reduces crop yields.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama’s top advisers and cabinet members, including his counselor, John Podesta; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew; Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; and the senior adviser Valerie Jarrett met with the backers and authors of the report and with top officials from the insurance industry to discuss the economic consequences of increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather.