Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Buzz around D.C. is that President Obama will address climate change and energy policy in his speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night — amid, you know, all those other things weighing on the new commander in chief. And folks are already parsing what it means if Obama includes revenues from the auction of carbon credits in his proposed federal budget, due out later this week.

But while speaking to reporters Monday night after at an event in Washington, D.C., one of Obama’s top environmental policy advisers downplayed the idea that the country will have a cap-and-trade plan (the administration’s preferred method of dealing with carbon emissions) in place this year, or that it’s even necessary to have a bill passed before the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December.

“It’s still early in the administration and it’s still a long time to Copenhagen, so I wouldn’t comment yet,” said Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She said other actions taken by Congress and the president — like the already-passed economic recovery plan — demonstrate that the United States has changed its tune on energy and climate policy.

“I wouldn’t say that that is the only thing we could do to show leadership. I think that there are other things as well,” she said. “But it’s still very early on. We’re just five weeks into the administration.”

Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, also signaled to reporters Monday that the president isn’t necessarily determined to get a bill in 2009. “Urgency, as you pointed out, is important,” said Gibbs. But, he added, “I think the president would say if we had significant legislation that began to address climate change and allowed us to spend even more money investing in alternative energies to ensure that we weren’t adding to the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, whether that’s this year or next year, I think both of us would agree that that’s a big change that we would welcome.”

What will Obama have to say about it in tonight’s speech? Check Grist later today for full coverage.