President Obama's climate plan could cost industry close to $2 trillion, nearly three times the White House's initial estimate of the so-called "cap-and-trade" legislation, according to Senate staffers who were briefed by the White House.
A top economic aide to Mr. Obama told a group of Senate staffers last month that the president's climate-change plan would surely raise more than the $646 billion over eight years the White House had estimated publicly, according to multiple a number of staffers who attended the briefing Feb. 26.
"We all looked at each other like, 'Wow, that's a big number,'" said a top Republican staffer who attended the meeting along with between 50 and 60 other Democratic and Republican congressional aides.
The plan seeks to reduce pollution by setting a limit on carbon emissions and allowing businesses and groups to buy allowances, although exact details have not been released.
At the meeting, Jason Furman, a top Obama staffer, estimated that the president's cap-and-trade program could cost up to three times as much as the administration's early estimate of $646 billion over eight years. A study of an earlier cap-and-trade bill co-sponsored by Mr. Obama when he was a senator estimated the cost could top $366 billion a year by 2015.
A White House official did not confirm the large estimate, saying only that Obama aides previously had noted that the $646 billion estimate was "conservative."
"Any revenues in excess of the estimate would be rebated to vulnerable consumers, communities and businesses," the official said.
The Obama administration has proposed using the majority of the money generated from a cap-and-trade plan to pay for its middle-class tax cuts, while using about $120 billion to invest in renewable-energy projects.
Mr. Obama and congressional Democratic leaders have made passing a climate-change bill a top priority. But Republican leaders and moderate to conservative Democrats have cautioned against levying increased fees on businesses while the economy is still faltering.
House Republican leaders blasted the costs in the new estimate.
"The last thing we need is a massive tax increase in a recession, but reportedly that's what the White House is offering: up to $1.9 trillion in tax hikes on every single American who drives a car, turns on a light switch or buys a product made in the United States," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner. "And since this energy tax won't affect manufacturers in Mexico, India and China, it will do nothing but drive American jobs overseas."