A White House spokesman reaffirmed Tuesday evening that Obama
supports moving climate and energy legislation as one package.
But Obama suggested the two elements could be separated at the town hall in Nashua, N.H.
"The most controversial aspects of the energy debate that we've been having: the House passed an energy bill and people complained that, 'Well, there's this cap-and-trade thing,'" Obama said, according to a White House transcript. "We may be able to separate these things out. And it's conceivable that that's where the Senate ends up."
Separating climate and energy provisions would deal a tough blow to efforts to impose mandatory limits on heat-trapping emissions. Supporters of climate legislation are counting on including energy provisions that can attract GOP support to advance the measure in the Senate.
Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are trying to craft a compromise bill that includes greenhouse gas limits and support for nuclear power, low-emissions coal technologies and wider offshore drilling.
But centrist Democrats wary of cap-and-trade – such as Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.) – have pushed for the Senate to take up energy legislation the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved in June, while shelving the emissions caps.
That broad bill includes new renewable energy requirements, expanded federal financing for low-carbon energy technologies, new Gulf of Mexico oil-and-gas drilling and energy efficiency programs, but no limits on greenhouse gases.
Though he said the elements could be broken up, Obama emphasized in New Hampshire that he views creating a cost to emit greenhouse gases – which is what cap-and-trade is designed to do – as vital to boosting low-carbon energy sources.
“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,” Obama said. He cited the Clean Air Act provision – enacted in 1990 – that created an emissions trading system for sulfur dioxide pollution that has been widely credited with helping to cut acid rain.
“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, etc., they figured it out,” Obama said.
“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,” he added.