Monday's inaugural address by President Obama raised the hopes of environmentalists around the world by promising to take serious action about climate change. However, by Wednesday his Press Secretary, Jay Carney, was deflecting questions about a carbon tax, saying the administration has no intention of proposing a tax on carbon. Instead, the administration intends to focus on developing new clean energy technologies, as well as toughening up existing clean air regulations.
Obama's inaugural address was unlike traditional inaugural speeches because he used that speech to lay out a political agenda. Talking about climate change, the President said "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations." Going on to talk about deniers of human caused climate change, he said "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms."
His proposal to address climate change rests on sustainable energy sources and clean technology. "The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."
Many push for a carbon tax as an economic lever with which to balance the field between the entrenched fossil fuel based energy industry, and the new energy industry that's developing renewable energy resources. The new clean energy industry does not have the price advantage of the entrenched incumbent energy industry. Instead it is fighting an uphill battle to gain adoption.
The first question about a carbon tax on Wednesday noted that "Democrats on the Hill" (in Congress) don't expect to have the cap-and-trade bill of 2010 re-introduced. Instead, would the administration focus on toughening carbon-based pollution regulations for future power plants and regulatory rules under the Clean Air Act for existing power plants. Carney responded that "the President intends to continue progress on the new national standard for harmful carbon pollution from new power plants and to implement that standard," and that it is "helpful to our long-term economic vitality" to insure that "we make investments in new energy technology and that we develop new forms of energy, as well as traditional forms of energy here at home so that we are less dependent on foreign imports of energy."
Pressed on the answer, Carney reiterated a path of developing clean energy technology. "There is the opportunity that actions we take to deal with that challenge present to us economically when it comes to clean energy and developing domestic energy alternatives to the import of foreign energy."
A later question focused on legislation introduced, on Wednesday, by Sen. Bernie Sanders that would put some penalties on fossil fuel companies that emit carbon. The question was whether President Obama would get behind such a policy. Carney responded that he hadn't seen the legislation, so couldn't comment on it directly, but did say the administration has "not proposed and have no intention of proposing a carbon tax."