The biggest news from President Obama's Oval Office address is that cap-and-trade legislation is probably dead for the foreseeable future, and the administration is seeking new ideas.
Instead of using last night's prime-time opportunity to push cap-and-trade in the form of the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act -- as many climate advocates saw as their last hope for "comprehensive" climate reform -- President Obama pressed the reset button on energy and climate policy, saying he was "happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party, as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels." He made no mention of setting a price on carbon or establishing an emissions cap-and-trade system.
As Andrew Revkin observed at the New York Times Dot Earth, the president "signaled that he is leaving open a variety of paths on energy and climate policy and no longer hewing tightly to the idea of a cap-and-trade system for restricting heat-trapping emissions -- which he never wavered from during his campaign." David Roberts of Grist, one of the few remaining hopefuls for cap-and-trade reform, wrote "Final thought: Obama didn't drive the carbon cap tonight, so there won't be a carbon cap in the energy bill this year."
Several key Democratic Senators have reached a similar conclusion. "I doubt very much whether those 60 votes exist right now," said Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) yesterday on C-SPAN, referring to the 60 votes necessary for cap and trade in the Senate. "The climate bill isn't going to stop the oil leak," said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), asserting that "The first thing you have to do is stop the oil leak." Echoing these sentiments, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) stated, "There's not a great call for it in the Democratic caucus," and Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) called climate legislation "unrelated" to the Gulf spill.
If cap-and-trade is dead, then what's next? The only serious alternative that could attract bipartisan support is a comprehensive national strategy for clean energy competitiveness and innovation -- including substantial new federal investment in research, development, demonstration, deployment, and manufacturing -- to accelerate America's transition away from fossil fuels, build a strong and competitive clean energy industry, and rapidly drive down the price of low-carbon power and transportation technologies. These investments could potentially be included as part of a comprehensive energy package, building upon the proposed American Clean Energy Leadership Act.