Obama’s coded SOTU climate push draws cheers and questions

So Obama’s phrasing was fine with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) hopes to craft compromise legislation that blends emissions caps with sweeteners for the GOP and industry like new nuclear power subsidies.

“He said comprehensive climate and energy. Comprehensive climate and energy,” Kerry told The Hill after the speech. “That means we have to get the job done – exactly what we are working to do.”

Obama’s speech drew quick cheers from several environmental groups too.

“We applaud President Obama's continued leadership and urge the Senate to heed his call by swiftly passing comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that creates clean energy jobs, reduces our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and protects the planet for future generations,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski in a statement.

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, heard a somewhat different speech.

“If he was really going to be pushing climate this Congress, I think he would have given far more footage in the speech to that,” she said in a short interview. “The fact that he spoke to key aspects of the energy bill and singled out nuclear and offshore production, that was a signal as far as I was concerned about pushing an energy bill, but no mention of cap-and-trade, no mention of some of the more controversial aspects of what people would say comprise the climate bill.”

Murkowski , along with several centrist Democrats, has called for passage of the bipartisan energy bill the committee approved in June. It aims to boost development of renewable and traditional energy sources, and also contains several new energy efficiency programs, but lacks emissions limits.

Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), a centrist who is up for reelection this year, said he backs tackling energy legislation that does not include cap-and-trade.

“If I were advising the President, I would focus on energy security and job creation in the energy space that would have the additional advantage of helping address carbon emissions, but do it in an economic, growth-friendly way,” he told reporters in the Capitol after the speech.

Obama’s speech called for creating more “clean energy jobs” by boosting nuclear power, making “tough decisions” about opening new areas for offshore drilling, and support for “clean coal” and renewable energy.

“And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America,” Obama said. He cited the House action last year and said he’s eager to help push bipartisan legislation in the Senate, and made a pitch for support from global warming skeptics.

“I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy. I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change,” Obama said. “But here's the thing -- even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future, because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.”