I watched the President’s Tuesday evening press conference twice, and have been studying the transcript as well. I believe the best way to understand a policymaker is simple: read, watch, or listen to the words that he or she says. Getting a policymaker’s views through a news filter distorts and loses content. In this blog, I hope I can show you where to look for the best primary sources, and only then give you my analysis.

The Tuesday evening press conference should keep me busy for at least a week, so I will break it up into small bites. I was stunned by the President’s language when asked about his cap-and-trade proposal. The premise of the reporter’s question was that the cap-and-trade proposal is running into resistance from Congressional Democrats. Here’s what the President said in response:

When it comes to cap and trade, the broader principle is that we’ve got to move to a new energy era, and that means moving away from polluting energy sources towards cleaner energy sources. That is a potential engine for economic growth. I think cap and trade is the best way, from my perspective, to achieve some of those gains because what it does is it starts pricing the pollution that’s being sent into the atmosphere.

The way it’s structured has to take into account regional differences; it has to protect consumers from huge spikes in electricity prices. So there are a lot of technical issues that are going to have to be sorted through. Our point in the budget is let’s get started now, we can’t wait. And my expectation is that the energy committees or other relevant committees in both the House and the Senate are going to be moving forward a strong energy package. It will be authorized, we’ll get it done and I will sign it.

I rewound this to make certain I hadn’t misheard him. He never said the words “climate change,” “global warming,” “greenhouse gases,” “carbon,” “carbon dioxide,” or “C-O-2.” His answer was entirely about clean energy and clean energy technology. He expects that the committees will move forward a strong energy package, not a strong climate change package, and not (necessarily) a cap-and-trade bill. This persisted throughout the press conference.

I tried to figure out if this is intentional, so I looked at the President’s recent weekly address, in which he used similar language:

First, it must reduce our dependence on dangerous foreign oil and finally put this nation on a path to a clean, renewable energy future. There is no longer a doubt that the jobs and industries of tomorrow will involve harnessing renewable sources of energy. The only question is whether America will lead that future. I believe we can and we will, and that’s why we’ve proposed a budget that makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy, while investing in technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and fuel-efficient cars and trucks that can be built right here in America.

Again, it’s all about clean renewable energy and spending money on technology, with no mention of climate change or global warming. I am not suggesting any change in the President’s substantive view on climate change, nor that he has given up on it as a legislative matter. He is, however, framing this as a clean energy and technology issue, rather than as a climate change / global warming issue. If I’m missing some other venue in which he has recently advocated vigorously for climate change legislation and framed it as such, please point it out to me in the comments.

This does not seem to be an oversight. It appears strategic. At a minimum, it would allow him to later declare victory if the Congress does not pass a cap-and-trade bill, but instead just increases clean energy research funding in appropriations bills.

I should mention three side notes about his second quote:

  1. Clean coal is not renewable energy.
  2. He included clean coal in the list. This is somewhat surprising, and I’m glad that he included it.
  3. He left nuclear power off the list. This is not surprising, and I’m disappointed that he excluded it. Nuclear power is clean, reliable, safe, and it emits no greenhouse gases.