Yes, Obama is still pursuing clean air, clean energy jobs bill that puts a price on carbon pollution

Is it “conceivable” the media could report the news correctly? No, I’m afraid it is “unlikely.”

Today, in an extended set of remarks at a town hall meeting in Nashua New Hampshire, the President once again strongly endorsed a comprehensive bill that combines energy and climate policy — and sets a price on carbon:

The concept of incentivizing clean energy so that it’s the cheaper, more effective kind of energy is one that is proven to work and is actually a market-based approach.

In fact, he went on and on extolling the virtues of putting a price on sulfur trading in the Clean Air Act:

By the way, remember acid rain?  That’s how that got solved, was basically what happened — the Clean Air Act slapped a price on sulfur emissions.  And what ended up happening was all these companies who were saying this was going to be a jobs killer, et cetera, they figured it out.  They figured it out a lot cheaper than anybody expected.  And it turns out now that our trees are okay up here in New Hampshire.  That’s a good thing.  So we should take a lesson from the past and not be afraid of the future.


While in his professorial mode he did opine as to how some folks on the Hill want to split out the pricing mechanism and just do the energy:

And it’s conceivable that that’s where the Senate ends up.

Double duh.

But since the media very much wants to declare all of Obama’s major initiatives to be dead, dead, dead, that word “conceivable” morphed into this headline from TalkingPointsMemo of all places:

Obama Acknowledges Senate Unlikely To Adopt Pollution Limits

and that 3:39 pm headline morphed into their 3:42 pm front-page story as

Stick A Fork In Cap-and-Trade

Yes, “conceivable” becomes “likely” because drop-dead certainty.

Interestingly, the URL for TPM’s main story is — so some TPM editor apparently felt the original overhyped headline didn’t do enough  overselling to interest folks zinging around the Internet looking for the most sensational thing to read.

I guess a more accurate headline like

Obama hints Senate might not adopt pollution limits

wouldn’t actually qualify as news, let alone a fully accurate headline like:

Obama restates his strong support for pricing carbon, says it’s ‘conceivable’ that might not happen

It gets better, which is to say worse.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the same remarks — claiming the president said “We may be able to separate these things out. And it’s possible that that’s where the Senate ends up,” whereas the WH transcript says “conceivable.”

In any case, the WSJ had the benefit of the inevitable clarification of the President’s slightly ambiguous remarks:

A White House spokesman downplayed the president’s comments, saying Mr. Obama still favored a bill that would combine measures to encourage jobs in green-energy fields with the establishment of a trading mechanism for emissions.

But the WSJ still ran with the headline:

Obama Retreats From Goal of Cap-Trade Bill

Sad, really.

We saw the same morbidly over-eager over-reaction last week to some ambiguous remarks by Sen. Lindsey Graham, which he immediately corrected (see Is there going to be a bipartisan climate, energy security, clean air and clean energy jobs bill this year? and Lindsey Graham: “The idea of not pricing carbon, in my view, means you’re not serious about energy independence. The odd thing is you’ll never have energy independence until you clean up the air, and you’ll never clean up the air until you price carbon”).

It may well be that the conventional wisdom is correct about the chances for getting a comprehensive bill that prices carbon and cuts pollution.  Indeed, such media stories have a way of become self-fulfilling.  But there is no excuse for this kind of headline writing.

Here are the President’s full remarks.  I think you’ll agree that they are pretty much a lengthy endorsement of pricing carbon:

Well, let me respond by talking more broadly about energy.  First of all, those are such good ideas I’ve already adopted them, although I didn’t know they came from you.  (Laughter.)

Number one, we have to invest in innovation and new technologies.  There’s no doubt about it.  And by the way, we’ve got to upgrade some old technologies.  I know it’s controversial in some quarters, but if you’re serious about dealing with climate change then you’ve got to take a serious look at the nuclear industry.  If you are serious about climate change, you’ve got to figure out is there technology that can allow us to sequester coal and the emissions that are set out.

The reason for that is not just for the United States.  China is building a coal-fired plant once a week, just about –India is doing the same — because coal is cheap.  And unless we can come up with some energy alternatives that allow us to franchise that technology so that they are equipped to burn that coal cleanly, we’re going to have problems no matter what we do in this country when it comes to the environment.  So technology is key.  And, by the way, we can make significant profits and create huge jobs just upgrading traditional technologies.  Then you’ve got the whole clean energy sector, which is ready to take off if we provide the kind of seed capital, the kind of R&D credits that are necessary.

This past recession almost killed a lot of our homegrown clean energy sectors.  And the industry will tell you.  You talk to the wind industry or the solar industry, if we hadn’t passed the Recovery Act and all the support for clean energy, a lot of them would have completely gone under and we would have been ceding leadership as we already have, unfortunately, to a lot of countries like Spain and Germany and Japan that are doing a lot more work on it.  So this is a huge engine for job creation, and we’ve got to make those investments.

The third thing you said, energy efficiency.  We are one of the least efficient advanced economies when it comes to energy usage.  And it’s estimated that we could probably lop off 30 percent of our energy consumption just on efficiency without changing our lifestyles significantly.  I say “significantly” because you’d have to start buying LED batteries or LED light bulbs.  But it’s still a light bulb.  You don’t have to sit in the dark.  You don’t have to use gas lanterns.  You just have to make the investment.  And one of the things that a company like ARC Energy is doing is trying to bring down the unit cost for each of those light bulbs.

A school building like this, guarantee you that we could make this school probably 10-15-20 percent more energy efficient.  But the problem is school budgets a lot of times don’t have the money to put the capital up front to make it more energy efficient.  So are there ways we can help universities and schools and other institutions — more efficient?  We could retrofit every building in this country that was built over the last 50 years and get huge increases in energy, huge decreases in greenhouse gas emissions.  But it requires some seed money.  It requires some work.  And that’s why part of our jobs package is actually — it’s a very simple concept:  Hire people to weatherize homes that will save those homeowners’ heating bills, or cooling bills, and at the same time put people back to work and train them in things like insulation and heating systems.  So there’s a lot of opportunity there.

Now, here’s the only thing I would say.  The most controversial aspects of the energy debate that we’ve been having — the House passed an energy bill and people complained about, well, there’s this cap and trade thing.  And you just mentioned, let’s do the fun stuff before we do the hard stuff.  The only thing I would say about it is this:  We may be able to separate these things out.  And it’s conceivable that that’s where the Senate ends up.  But the concept of incentivizing clean energy so that it’s the cheaper, more effective kind of energy is one that is proven to work and is actually a market-based approach.  A lot of times, people just respond to incentives.  And no matter how good the technology is, the fact of the matter is if you’re not factoring in the soot that’s being put in the atmosphere, coal is going to be cheaper for a very long time.  For the average industry, the average company, we can make huge progress on solar, we can make huge progress on wind, but the unit costs — energy costs that you get from those technologies relative to coal are still going to be pretty substantial.  They’re going to get better, but it might take 20-30-40 years of technology to get better.

And so the question then is:  Does it make sense for us to start pricing in the fact that this thing is really bad for the environment?  And if we do, then can we do it in a way that doesn’t involve some big bureaucracy in a control and command system, but just says, look, we’re just going to — there’s going to be a price to pollution.  And then everybody can adapt and decide which are the — which are the best energies.  And that’s — that’s, by the way, remember acid rain?  That’s how that got solved, was basically what happened — the Clean Air Act slapped a price on sulfur emissions.  And what ended up happening was all these companies who were saying this was going to be a jobs killer, et cetera, they figured it out.  They figured it out a lot cheaper than anybody expected.  And it turns out now that our trees are okay up here in New Hampshire.  That’s a good thing.  So we should take a lesson from the past and not be afraid of the future.  (Applause.)

Triple duh.

The desperate desire to retain readers through sensational headlines that simply don’t match up with the content of their stories — coupled with a morbid desire to declare dead all things Obama — is yet another sign of the actual, certified, attending-physician-called-it-so-get-out-of-the-ER-please death of the traditional media.  Stick a friggin’ fork in it, already!

Memo to TPM:  Please don’t fall prey to this old media syndrome and thereby risk becoming like the pigs at the end of Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” indistinguishable from the humans they once overthrew….

33 Responses to Yes, Obama is still pursuing clean air, clean energy jobs bill that puts a price on carbon pollution

  1. Prokaryote says:

    The wall street journal also deletes comments, which are not of sceptic nature.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    The Media — Again

    Several points …

    Joe, you wrote (and I agree):

    “Indeed, such media stories have a way of becoming self-fulfilling.”

    But this is only one part of the much larger media problem, of course, and I think it’s necessary to keep pointing this out, and taking names, until it changes.

    Once something like this becomes a headline, it can (sometimes) be self-fulfilling, or at least the headline serves to facilitate movement in that direction.

    But well before that, of course, the very problem that such an article (with or without its headline) discusses is brought about, in part, because of the dismal media coverage all along. The poor media coverage CONTRIBUTES to getting us into this problematic and unfortunate situation in the first place, and then the attention-grabbing self-fulfilling headline merely serves to put the nails in the coffin.

    I’d like to remind readers that I’ve sent a full commentary (critique) of media philosophy (regarding climate change) to you, Joe, and to Andy Revkin, and to Curtis Brainard. I would hope that all three of you — or at least Andy and Curtis — will read it. (You do a great job, Joe, and I sent it to you mainly for the record and in case you have “free time” … ha.)

    But, I hope that Andy and Curtis read it.

    I also understand that Andy will be appearing in San Francisco on April 27, and I’m hoping to hear his latest thinking on the media’s effectiveness then. If my schedule allows, I’ll be there. Perhaps others who are concerned about the media, who live in the San Francisco area, can also come.

    Be Well,


  3. WAG says:

    Two comments.

    First, I think a potentially bigger concern than this speech is what Ezra Klein writes:

    White House predictions: Health-care reform passes, cap-and-trade doesn’t
    Last year’s budget included space for both a health-care reform bill and a cap-and-trade bill. The revenues for cap-and-trade, in fact, paid for a substantial middle-class tax cut. But this year, the budget assumes that health-care reform passes and deletes cap-and-trade — and the tax cut it would fund in the future — entirely.

    Would the revenues from cap-and-trade disappear from the budget if you still passed the policy, but gave away the permits?

    Second, I’m not sure the language of “pricing carbon” is terribly effective for the average voter. The President does a good job of elaborating on what it means, but as a sound bite it doesn’t mean a lot to someone who hasn’t taken an econ course. If you don’t know what it means to “internalize the externality” (and even most libertarian economists have trouble with the concept), then it isn’t immediately intuitive why “pricing carbon” will lead to jobs. If anything, it intuitively sounds like something that would destroy jobs, since the first thing I think when I hear is “higher prices, higher costs.” You have to think about it for a second to realize “higher costs –> investment and innovation –> jobs.”

    I don’t have a better idea at the moment though, so I guess I’m no help.

  4. I find that frustrating too. Nobody knows the truth about what is really going on, because the media botches the story. So I try to cover these stories straight, as if we had honest media.

    Democratic EPA Moves Decisively on Coal

    EPA Win: Kansas Coal Power Plant Must Install $500 Million Pollution Scrubber

    Republican mounts bid to undo Arizona’s renewable energy standard

  5. Doug Bostrom says:

    “Second, I’m not sure the language of “pricing carbon” is terribly effective for the average voter.”

    Not to harp on a slightly disgusting analogy, but we price sewage and citizens seem to have no problem understanding that requirement. C02 is effluent, like other forms of effluent it is not “free.” This is where the battle over EPA’s classification of C02 as a pollutant counts in an intangible way; once C02 is cemented in the public mind as a pollutant, it conceptually joins sewage and a host of other effluents, becomes something the public intuitively grasps as an environmental management problem.

  6. Leif says:

    Sometime I feel like I am a character in a Russian Novel.

  7. Dan B says:



    1. Lead with Solutions.

    A. Clean energy
    B. Dramatic improvements in Efficiency.
    C. Keeping heated air in buildings.

    2. Point out the Opportunities.

    A. Jobs in Clean Energy research, developing and revitalizing businesses.
    B. Saving major bucks on the heating / cooling bill.
    C. Buildings that feel good, reduce absenteeism (because people want to come to work, because they feel good.)

    3. Bring it home with the Moral reasons.

    A. For our children.
    B. For our children’s future.
    C. Because we are responsible for handing off a “positive” energy future.

    Repeat, repeat, repeat.

    Slowly the world pivots. We don’t notice. Still it pivots.

  8. ken levenson says:

    Is it me, or is TPM losing its “fresh eyes”?

  9. Prokaryote says:

    Obama pushing clean coal and green jobs
    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is meeting with governors from coal-producing states, hoping to earn their support for a languishing energy bill and to bolster his image as a leader willing to work with Republicans as well as Democrats.

    Intresting there is still some media reporting news instead of fraud.

  10. Lou Grinzo says:

    Doug: I agree completely with our comment about the phrase “pricing carbon” falling flat. It’s a perfect example of bureaucratic tin ear syndrome, which is simply one version of lousy communication.

    I think we need something much more direct, and your suggestion of linking it to other forms of pollution or waste is good. How about instead of “pay-go” (“pay as you go”), a popular WDC meme, we have “pay as you pollute”? It could be followed up with the appealing and “fair” notion that whoever pollutes our shared air, water, or land should have to either stop it completely or pay an appropriate price for the damage done to others.

    I can see Obama giving a speech in which he says he’s pushing for big corporations should be held to the same standards of responsibility as the children of American voters–you make a mess, you clean it up.

    What will the right wingers do, argue for lack of responsibility?

  11. Prokaryote says:

    10, same would be a model for taxation.

    Ultimatly one should ask if society wants to listen to science any longer.
    This sense is long gone. It started with thales once. He showed society that science is more importend than short term financial gains. He did this in many ways.

    The media is flawed and now as last chance either the government and agencys start hunting the denial down or we can all just sit back and watch the apocalypse emerge, while eating the last popcorn.

  12. Lee says:

    The New York Times web site did slightly better it’s headline read “Obama Says Senate May Drop Cap and Trade, Pass Energy-Only Bill”

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said headline writers are aiming at “folks zinging around the Internet looking for the most sensational thing to read”

  13. Leif says:

    Efficiency. A number of years ago I read that the united states wastes the amount of energy that the Alaska Pipeline produces. I am sure that statement is dated by now but understandable breakdowns like that can stick in peoples minds. People on average just don’t get it that wasted energy is throwing money not only out the window but into the hands of corporations and Dictators and then paying interest on same forever more to China and the worlds assorted already rich. No wonder they all fight so hard for the status quo.


  14. Jeff Huggins says:

    Common Sense

    I agree with people who say that “pricing carbon” is a phrase that doesn’t make itself clear and that doesn’t capture the essence and heart of the matter. In important ways, it’s an ambiguous, sanitized, dead, unappealing phrase. Nor does it capture genuine human motive. Nobody likes a “price”. And “carbon” is about as exciting as “pencil” if you don’t already have a deep appreciation for it.

    Ask yourself: On a free evening, with a friend, would you rather “price carbon” or go see a movie, even a pretty boring one? At least at a movie you can get Junior Mints!

    The need to “price carbon” arises because of a very common-sense and obvious point: If it’s free to pour CO2 into the atmosphere, then companies (many of them among the largest companies on Earth) will be happy to keep selling us products that do just that; and we won’t transition to clean energy sources effectively.

    So, “pricing carbon” is akin to “being smart and responsible”.

    Indeed, let’s talk about IDENTITY. We are (supposedly) homo sapiens. Well, “sapiens” means wise. So, there is a rather direct link to identity itself: “Pricing carbon” is being wise, given the circumstances. Anything less is dramatically UN-wise. So, if we want to retain our (fragile) self-identities as “homo sapiens”, we’d better do it.

    Thus, a shift in phrasing could be from “pricing carbon” to “being sapiens” or even “walking the talk”. (Someone would have to help get the actual wording and tense correct. My Latin is non-existent.)

    This “pricing carbon” phrase has got to be improved and given a form that EXPLAINS, in the term itself, what is at stake and why we should be motivated to do it.

    If we don’t “price carbon”, we can’t think of ourselves as “sapiens” any more. It’s as simple as that. Any good economist should support the essence of that point, under the circumstances. So, what phrase can best convey that idea. Price carbon, or change your self-identity.

    Be Well,


  15. Leif says:

    Case in point: The average home owner wastes about 25% (?) of their energy budget that can be readily recoverable with little investment. Assuming a average monthly energy budget of $700, (cars count, as well as your job, so I am sure that number is low), that is about $175 per month per household going directly into some rich Dud’s pocket and then paying interest on that money with TAXES. (no end in sight and growing!) OFF THE TOP! ~$5.00 a day per household. Of course if you have a BIG carbon stomp that number will be much higher. Just so “YOU” can have the privilege of sloppy living!

    The insanity of it all!
    And the GOP fights for the status quo!
    And our side is holding the short end of the stick!
    Go figure!

  16. Henrik says:

    The concept of pricing carbon is a difficult sell. I always explain cap-and-trade by saying that “a price on carbon means we also place a value on reducing emissions. This is how we create value in the future, by rewarding companies for being clean”.

    Dont focus on “negative” words like costs, pay, pollution. Turn it around by using words like value, reward, clean.

    Just my 2 cents.

  17. Leif says:

    Jeff: How about “Dump Fee” to get the ball rolling?

  18. Andy says:

    While the U.S. seems unable to wipe it’s rear end these days without Peabody’s permission, other relatively tiny European and N. African countries with relatively tiny research and development and infrastructure construction budgets are turning to wind and solar energy. I think India will as well due to their poor transmission capacity.

    How long will the U.S. middle class give their last blanket and roll in the mud so the coal, oil and nuclear industries (health industries as well) can keep up their 3 a day latte habit? At some point folks are going to look across the ocean and figure out why everyone else is driving electric cars and can afford to heat their house in the winter. Michael Moore compared our health care system with Europe’s and wasn’t successful; yet. We just haven’t descended far enough into poverty to get over our fear of change.

    It’ll happen. Just need to keep the lines of communication open. Which is exactly what you are doing.

    Obama’s outspoken support is causing folks like Dorgan and his ilk to have to tell lots of lies. Patience.

  19. Neal says:

    TPM, to an extent, botched it’s reporting on the CRU hack as well.

    “But manipulating the review process — ‘even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is’ — in order to obtain a specific desired result is close to the very definition of putting ideology over scientific integrity.”

    ( )

    TPM is uneven at best.

  20. Doug Bostrom says:

    Lou Grinzo says: February 3, 2010 at 7:26 am

    “What will the right wingers do, argue for lack of responsibility?”

    Indeed this is all about responsibility which of course leads directly to accountability, two favorite words with conservatives, and no wonder because the fundamental concept resonates with nearly everybody.

    It’s not even a matter of “us versus them”, we’re all accountable. If a corporation wants to retain the same absolute dollar profit and finds it is able to to pass previously ignored costs along to consumers, what is actually wrong with that? At the end of the day, for many of us the costs we’re speaking of are not an existential threat and in any case they are our responsibility because we are making the choice to buy or not buy products and services.

    Here’s an example. Consumer Reports just published a short item about replacement batteries for cordless power tools. Their remarkably thoughtless recommendation was that consumers should consider buying entire new tool kits regardless of the condition of the tools themselves, because it is “less costly to you”. The only reason that seems less costly is because consumers buying those tools are dodging responsibility and passing costs along to other people, encouraged by manufacturers. By accounting for disposal expenses in the initial purchase price of the tool set, consumers would be taking responsibility, being accountable in dollars and cents for their choice. At that point it’s purely a personal choice if they want to throw away a tool, they’re not passing the buck.

    For C02 it’s even simpler: We don’t expect to have our drains to end at the edge of our property, emptying into our neighbor’s yard, we know that is wrong and is a failure to take responsibility. We know we have to pay, to account for our waste. Similarly we should not expect “free” disposal of C02.

    So the entire argument here swerves back to communicating the polluting nature of C02 to the public, that’s where the action really is, that’s why scientists unwittingly following the “wrong” path of inquiry are being fed into a public relations meatgrinder. It is absolutely imperative for fossil fuel interests that this horse not get out of the barn, they’re armed, dangerous and the stakes they have in this fight are far more than for what many countries have gone to war and shed blood.

  21. Wit's End says:

    Sorry, Obama, the Clean Air Act was not the success greenwashing industry and government pretend it is, and the forests in New Hampshire and everywhere else are decidedly NOT healthy. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Dr. Charles Driscoll, but any internet search about acid rain will reveal the lasting, persistent damage and the ongoing deposition from multiple sources:

    larryo: So on acid rain. It’s below the radar of the media these days. Any idea why?

    cdriscoll: I sent you the Science Links report and paper we did a few years ago to try to bring it back to the public attention. I think it is because the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments addressed the problem in part and the media and public have the perception that the problem is solved. Also other national and global environmental problems have emerged.

    from this interview:

    It’s not going to be possible to solve our emissions problems if we don’t start getting realistic about the scope of the impacts.

  22. Jerry Levitt says:

    What is a clean air job?

  23. Leif says:

    What is a clean air job? Tree planting, Filter Maintenance, Compliance inspector…

  24. espiritwater says:

    Leif, I liked your comment. Ha! Why a Russian novel? And what role do you play?

  25. Leif says:

    One of those guys that don’t make it to the end. And get abused a lot.

  26. Leif says:

    Henrik, #16: I like your direction of more “positive”. Survival Savings, or SS Account? SSA to distinguish from other well liked program. Perhaps the SSA could even help pay into SS! A % of GDP above base line business as usual? I like that one.

  27. Jerry Levitt says:

    Obama will stop smoking tobacco before he gains credibility in striving for clean air.

  28. Ben Lieberman says:

    I do not know if this is measurable, but the mainstream political reporters seem to have no interest in the environement. Are they foating through a series of hotels, offices, conference rooms, and the like detached from the natural world? I suppose they would claim that they need to be objective, but they don’t even seem to be interested, let alone to care about global warming.

  29. Doug Bostrom says:

    Jerry Levitt says: February 3, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    “Obama will stop smoking tobacco before he gains credibility in striving for clean air.”

    That’s the best you can do? Nothing specific? No commentary on actual policy, as opposed to cracking an exhausted gag?

    At least say something, if you’re going to drag your name into it.

  30. Lee says:

    Here’s another headline from the New York Times “Sen. Graham Slams Push for a ‘Half-Assed Energy Bill'” The article opened

    A key Senate Republican came out swinging today against the idea of passing just an energy bill and ignoring President Obama’s call to also cap greenhouse gas emissions.

    “It’s the ‘kick the can down the road’ approach,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “It’s putting off to another Congress what really needs to be done comprehensively. I don’t think you’ll ever have energy independence the way I want until you start dealing with carbon pollution and pricing carbon. The two are interconnected.”

    Full article:

  31. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Is the government going to fine me for exhaling CO2?

    [JR: You personally? Let’s hope so. But as a general rule, the answer to your absurd question is “No, duh!”]

  32. moda says:

    yes What is a clean air job?

    [JR: A job that reduces air pollution.]

  33. Leif says:

    #31, Harold: I believe if you read the proposal as written, if you in fact produce over 25,000? tons of CO2 a year than you will in fact be affected. You may well qualify as excrement will decompose into significant CO2.