WASHINGTON — Americans' day-to-day lives won't change noticeably if President Barack Obama achieves his newly announced goal of slashing carbon dioxide pollution by one-sixth in the next decade, experts say.
Except for rising energy bills. And how much they'll go up depends on who's doing the calculating. The White House said it will commit the U.S. to a goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 to about 17 percent below 2005 levels at a U.N.-sponsored climate change summit in Copenhagen early next month. That's about 12.5 percent below 2008 levels, according to the Department of Energy. He also set a goal of cutting emissions by 83 percent by 2050, which is what European nations want.
So the question is how big a burden would those double-digit cuts be for the average American. Experts say it will mean higher energy bills, fewer deaths from air pollution, and maybe even a dividend check at the end of the year. But mostly, they say, it'll be small, slowly evolving changes that the public won't even notice.
Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer compares what would happen under Obama's 2020 target to what has happened the past 30 years to refrigerators. Without consumers noticing much, they have become three times more energy efficient. You only notice when you buy one, because they cost more, or if you look at reduced energy usage on your electric bill, Oppenheimer said.
But what would the overall cost of the big cuts in emissions actually be?
White House climate czar Carol Browner cites a $173 a year cost for a family of four that was calculated by the Congressional Budget Office for the House climate bill, which has the same roughly 17 percent target. That summer CBO study said the poorest households would save $40 a year, while those in the highest income ranges would face a jump of $245 a year.
The Environmental Protection Agency put the overall cost at between $80 and $111 for the average household. But much of those estimates have lots of caveats, such as increased nuclear power use.
Energy companies, business interests, and Republicans say the costs will be far higher and hurt the average American far more. A number of studies done at the request of business groups have pegged the cost for the average household at $900 to $1,539 a year by 2020.