A line from a New York magazine article from three years ago has stuck with me: “We spend more time talking about what we think we’ll think than what we thought.” Or: Speculation prior to an event is nearly limitless; reflection afterward, brief.

And so, with six days until the president’s State of the Union address, speculation has begun. What will he say? What should he say? How strong or weak will what he says be? What’s the over/under on number of times Obama says “climate,” and how many times would he have to say it to fix the warming globe?

Obama delivers the 2010 State of the Union
blatantworld
Obama delivers the 2010 State of the Union.

The Wall Street Journal thinks it will come up.

President Barack Obama in next week’s State of the Union speech will lay out a renewed effort to combat climate change that is expected to include using his authority to curb emissions from existing power plants, people who have talked to the administration about its plans said. …

Mr. Obama is likely to signal he wants to move beyond proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules on emissions from new power plants and tackle existing coal-fired plants, people familiar with the administration’s plans said.

The EPA has prepared rules for existing plants to minimize pollution from particulate matter, mercury and other toxins. But this would be the first time the agency regulates existing plants to curb emissions of the greenhouse gases scientists believe contribute to global warming.

Indeed. Last May, David Roberts outlined the state of play here. At the time, advocates for curbing carbon pollution speculated that regulation of existing power plants — facilities that were often grandfathered in under the original Clean Air Act and which emit two-thirds of industrial greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. – would happen in the first year of Obama’s second term. And: voilà.

Nearly every think piece written about what Obama could do to address climate change puts regulating existing power plants at the top of the list. It has been a longstanding gap in addressing climate change — and a politically tricky one. The number of jobs lost when coal plants are shuttered versus those gained when they are upgraded is subject to enormous debate, a debate that Obama sought to avoid on last year’s campaign trail. If Obama argues that we need to move quickly in regulating existing power plants, upgrading them to reduce coal use or shuttering them on a faster timetable, reaction from fossil fuel advocates will be immediate and harsh. Lamentations about killing jobs will be wailed, as they have so many times before.

But then: This is all just speculation.