White House outlines long-term costs of inaction on climate change

Industries Associated Press

Failure to act on climate change could cause an estimated 57,000 deaths in the United States from poor air quality by 2100, the Obama administration argued in a new report Monday that warns of dire effects of global warming.

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The report underscores the costs of inaction on climate change as well as the benefits from taking action now. The administration estimates that 12,000 people in 49 U.S. cities could die from extreme temperatures in 2100.

The report comes as Republicans in Congress seek to undo the administration's environmental policies, including an expected plan by the Environmental Protection Agency to target coal-fired power plants, and days after Pope Francis issued a dire warning about global warming's consequences, especially for the poor and under-developed nations.

The White House report is part of a week-long effort to emphasize climate change to mark the two-year anniversary of a "climate action plan" announced by President Barack Obama.

While the most severe effects of global warming would not be felt for decades, the Obama administration said decisions about climate change need to be made now.

"Decisions are not going to wait 50 years," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters at a White House briefing "They are today's decisions."

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McCarthy called the report "a wake-up call for some who may not be aware" of the potential damages of climate change.

The report says actions to slow climate change could save about $3.1 billion in expected costs from sea-level rise and storm surge in 2100, while the power sector could save as much as $34 billion by 2050 in avoided costs for additional electricity for air conditioning and other uses.

An estimated $3 billion in avoided damages from poor water quality could be saved by 2100, the report said.

Brian Deese, a senior White House adviser, said Obama was "not going to accept efforts" by Republicans in Congress and others who oppose his climate strategy. He urged critics to read the report to see for themselves the potentially dire consequences of global warming.

The Republican-controlled House is expected to vote this week on a bill to scale back the plan on coal-fired power plants, the centerpiece of Obama's second-term push to act on climate change as a key part of his environmental legacy.

The bill would allow states to opt out of the plan if the governor determines it would cause significant rate hikes for electricity or harm reliability of service in the state. The bill also would delay the rule until all court challenges are completed.

The House also is expected to take up a separate spending bill that would bar the EPA from enforcing the power plant rules, cut the agency's budget and attack other prominent EPA regulations on air and water pollution.

Obama has managed to thwart GOP efforts in the past, but Republicans are renewing their efforts now that they control the Senate as well as the House.

The United States has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent as its contribution to a global treaty aimed at preventing the worst effects of climate change. The U.S. and other countries that account for more than half of total carbon pollution from the energy sector have announced plans to combat climate change beginning after 2020, Deese said.

Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this story.