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Sticker shock in acting on global warming

A House climate-change bill is watered down as its price goes up. Is that leadership?

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Here's some news that might give many Americans sticker shock: The cost of cutting greenhouse gases by 15 percent would cost the average US household about $1,600, according to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Such unbiased estimates are emerging only late in a hot debate over global warming on Capitol Hill. Too bad. The numbers are pitting Democrats against one another when credible cost projections from neutral sources should have been clear long ago.

After years of hearing about the impact of doing nothing if atmospheric warming continues, the ruling party is only now struggling over forcing consumers and industries to pay for curbs on greenhouse-gas emissions.

With many Americans now in financial straits, the main climate-change bill in Congress is also in trouble. Polls show that a majority in the US are against setting caps on such climate pollutants. Concerns about global warming, once high, have dropped dramatically. Only 34 percent say they believe it is primarily caused by human activity.

A consensus draft bill may appear in coming days from a House committee, but it will probably be watered down. The original target of cutting carbon gases 20 percent by 2020 (from 2005 levels) could drop to 14 percent.

And instead of collecting some $624 billion in revenue from the selling of pollution permits to industry, most of those permits would be given away free of charge, in what is called a cap-and-trade system. There would be little money to fund clean energy or subsidize the poor for higher costs.

The US would look like a weak leader at this December's global summit on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark, if Congress passes a watered-down bill or none at all. India, China, and other nations would see little reason to act on their own.

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