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Obama talks carbon pricing

Obama is finally using the BP disaster to talk about the need to get past the sticky black stuff that's choking the Gulf Coast:

Now, this brings me to an issue that’s on everybody’s minds right now -- namely, what kind of energy future can ensure our long-term prosperity. The catastrophe unfolding in the gulf right now may prove to be a result of human error, or of corporations taking dangerous shortcuts to compromise safety, or a combination of both. And I’ve launched a National Commission so that the American people will have answers on exactly what happened. But we have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth, and these are risks these are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes. We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and our grandchildren. [...]

The only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future -- if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed. And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.

Now, many businesses have already embraced this idea because it provides a level of certainty about the future. And for those that face transition costs, we can help them adjust. But if we refuse to take into account the full costs of our fossil fuel addiction -- if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and the national security costs and the true economic costs -- we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future.

The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate -- a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans -- that would achieve the same goal. And, Pittsburgh, I want you to know, the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months. (Applause.) I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can. (Applause.) I will work with anyone to get this done -- and we will get it done.

The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century. We are not going to move backwards. We are going to move forward.

Good stuff. The problem is that he waited so long to make this pivot that he's now doing it from a place of relative weakness rather than strength.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 3, 2010; 11:22 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Comments

Better late than never.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 3, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

I'm not sure this wasn't well played on Obama's part. If you tell someone they're doing something dangerous, then the worst happens, you won't make them come around by saying "I told you so." If someone is letting their child play in the street and the child is hit by a car, you don't immediately say "You bad parent!" After the respectful pause, after the crisis management is underway, you might get their ear.

It's worse when it's a huge number of people because they all reach their thresholds at different times. Some were willing to listen to you from the start. Some will never listen to you. If you actually want to move the policy levers you have to judge when enough are willing to listen. I don't know whether Obama has done this deliberately, but this may be the effect.

A silver lining for him is that if the leak stays in the news until August it keeps selling the need for action without requiring so much salesmanship on his part.

Posted by: dfhoughton | June 3, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

what dfhoughton said. Obama's are statements being made in a time when these ideas are likely to appear more salient and targeted than they would under "normal" circumstances. Emerson said something like "we only learn geology after the earthquake." This is somewhat like that.

Posted by: bdballard | June 3, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

He's also doing it in a way that promotes the third-rate, at best, legislation that went through the House and is leading in the Senate. Where was he when Cantwell-Collins could have been a contender? As Peter Barnes, among others, has argued, climate legislation will have to endure for decades to be effective. That means it has to be pretty robust to changing political winds. Not much has been that robust other than widely shared entitlements like Social Security. That's partly why Barnes pushes hard for cap and dividend--the money collected from pricing carbon should be paid back to the people on an equal per person basis. It helps people deal with the rising energy costs and gives them an incentive to support the system over time, especially since most people (on average, those in the lower 2/3rds or 3/4s of the income distribution) actually will receive more than they pay in via higher prices on energy. But the leading legislation working through Congress is (or was, last time I checked) a total boondoggle of giveaways that undermines any hope for populist support. That's a pretty bad risk--kind of like the risk of building an ultra deep undersea oil well without having serious systems in place to deal with risks.

Posted by: JonathanTE | June 3, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

I disagree that it's from a position of weakness. Given Obama's support for expanded drilling in the runup to the explosion, to immediately go back on that would have seemed reactionary. The disaster isn't fading from our conscious yet. People still are seeing this particular cost of drilling. No reason to think Obama's point is weakened by making it now.

Posted by: DDAWD | June 3, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

"And I’ve launched a National Commission so that the American people will have answers on exactly what happened."

A national commission? A blue ribbon panel? A committee? We're saved! We're saved!

"And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution."

Don't forget dihydrogen monoxide. And don't forget the many dangers of the caustic, corrosive, and flammable compound known as "oxygen". We need to be putting a price on that chemical-disaster-waiting-to-happen right now.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 3, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

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