The Obama administration’s latest financial issue: climate change

Last June, President Obama laid out an ambitious agenda to combat climate change during a speech at Georgetown University. Exactly a year later, the administration issued a progress report on that plan and started casting the issue as a crisis not only for the planet, but the economy.

The argument is an interesting one, as conventional wisdom from a business standpoint would call for less government intervention, not more, on such an issue. But a group of prominent financial and political figures, including former Treasury secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Cargill executive chairman Gregory Page, issued a report saying that environmental risks can potentially be avoided by early investments. The group, called the Risky Business Project, wants to show the dangers of climate change through a financial lens.

Administration officials are meeting Wednesday with a member of the group, Tom Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire who vowed to unload investments in oil and gas and is now bankrolling Democratic candidates who are vowing to fight global warming. Obama will also address the League of Conservation Voters Wednesday night.

How is the White House casting climate change as an economic issue? Here are a few tidbits from the White House report.


President Obama deals with the summer heat during a speech on climate change at Georgetown University in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Saving consumers money 

 The White House claims that initiatives to help combat global warming will help save consumers more than $60 billion on energy bills through 2030. How? By setting energy conservation standards will reduce the amount of power new appliances and other equipment use. A  number of the standards are still being finalized, but Obama announced in May that the Energy Department issued new efficiency rules that cut the energy output of electric motors and walk-in coolers and freezers.

Creating jobs 

 The administration is trying to combat two problems at once: greenhouse gases and job creation. Obama wants to train 50,000 people for jobs in the solar industry by 2020. The Department of Energy is going to support programs that teach people how to work in the solar industry at community colleges around the country; it has already partnered with more than 400 community colleges that provide solar jobs training programs. The Department of Interior is also approving renewable energy projects on public lands that it says will create about 3,200 construction and operations jobs.

Health costs 

 The administration claims that the EPA's proposed regulations to cut carbon emissions from existing coal plants by up to 30 percent by 2030 compared with 2005 levels will prevent up to 3,300 heart attacks, 150,000 asthma attacks and up to 6,600 premature deaths. How? The EPA estimates that the new rule would cut air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot by up to 25 percent. The EPA is calculating even bigger financial gains: It estimates that the changes will yield a public health cost benefit between $55 billion and $93 billion and will avoid at least 2,700 premature deaths.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is celebrating the first anniversary of Obama's speech in a different way. It's planning to give out cupcakes with the hashtag #allpainnogain, which are supposed to demonstrate "the troubling reality of the president’s climate crusade: costly consequences with no payoff," said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at ACCCE.

Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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