Obama's Climate Action Plan Will Create Jobs: Study

President Barack Obama feels the heat as he unveils his plan on climate change June 25 at Georgetown University in Washington.
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President Barack Obama feels the heat as he unveils his plan on climate change June 25 at Georgetown University in Washington.

The US Chamber of Commerce was quick to denounce President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan as "punishing Americans with higher energy bills [and] fewer jobs." But a new study finds the opposite: It said the policy will bring more jobs and lower electricity bills.

The study, released Tuesday, is based on a December 2012 proposal from the environmentalist group Natural Resources Defense Council to target carbon pollution under the auspices of the Clean Air Act—the same tack taken by Obama's plan. However, while the study weighed specific impacts of regulation, the president called on the Environmental Protection Agency to set carbon pollution standards within the next year.

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Conducted by Synapse Energy Economics for NRDC, the study projected that stricter emissions standards could net 210,000 jobs by 2020 and reduce electricity bills by 90 cents a month on average. An analysis of 14 states projected more jobs in all but one (Maine) under the proposal and lower utility bills in all but three states.

Energy-efficiency upgrades are the main driver of job gains under the NRDC's findings, and while costly plant upgrades to limit carbon emissions may result in a rise in the price of energy per kilowatt hour, greater efficiency should drive bills down.

Power plants are the biggest emitter of carbon pollution, accounting for 40 percent of the total, and those emissions are entirely unchecked (although plants' toxic emissions, such as mercury and arsenic, are regulated).

The NRDC said its proposal would cost $4 billion but would reap benefits in improved human health and averted environmental harm of 6 to 15 times that amount.

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In his June 25 speech, Obama said: "What you'll hear from the special interests and their allies in Congress is that this will kill jobs and crush the economy. ... And the reason I know you'll hear those things is because that's what they said every time America sets clear rules and better standards for our air and our water and our children's health. And every time, they've been wrong."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue released a statement the same day saying, "American consumers, workers, and businesses simply cannot afford another smothering layer of new regulations whose benefits are unproven and whose true costs are hidden."

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But Dan Lashof, director of NRDC's climate and clean air program, said predictions of dire consequences for businesses are "just assertions" uninformed by scientific analysis and that opponents are "making numbers up."

Laurie Johnson, chief economist in the program, said the chamber's negative outlook for the Climate Action Plan reflects "a very cynical view of America's capacity to innovate."

By CNBC's Matt Twomey. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Twomey.