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Was George Bush a Cap-and-Trade Fan?

Last week, The Hill’s Briefing Room found a passage in former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer's juicy new tell-all, Speech-less, that might be the book’s most shocking nugget: In an early 2008 speech, Bush had originally planned to endorse cap-and-trade before being talked out of it by a "small but merry band of conservatives in the White House."

At one point, the words cap and trade were put into the climate change speech, with the president expressing his support for the policy. Then somehow this leaked to the conservative press. Republicans on the outside of the White House sent furious objections, and the words were removed. But only those words. The rest of the speech endorsing that policy remained.

After days and days of postponements and fights, the president finally gave the speech. Conservatives in the West Wing were deflated by their loss in the policy battle. And then something miraculous happened. Because the speech had been so parsed and litigated, no one could quite understand what the president was saying. The press therefore assumed nothing had really changed. So the next day the media reported that the president had in fact come out against cap and trade.

This is most likely the speech in question, and it focuses largely on the need to develop technology that could reduce carbon emissions without harming the economy. But it also talks a lot about setting up market incentives to bring that technology about:

Today we have different incentives for different technologies—from nuclear power, to clean coal, to wind and solar energy.  What we need to do is consolidate them into a single, expanded program with the following features.

First, the incentive should be carbon-weighted to make lower emission power sources less expensive relative to higher emissions sources—and it should take into account our nation's energy security needs.

Second, the incentive should be technology-neutral because the government should not be picking winners and losers in this emerging market.

Third, the incentive should be long-lasting.  It should provide a positive and reliable market signal not only for the investment in a technology, but also for the investments in domestic manufacturing capacity and infrastructure that will help lower costs and scale up availability.

Sounds a lot like a cap-and-trade system to me! At the moment, we have John Boehner going on tirades against "cap-and-tax" proposals, and John Kerry abandoning the term "cap-and-trade" in his forthcoming legislation (he prefers "pollution reduction" bill). But Latimer makes it possible to imagine an alternate universe in which Bush had gotten his way, endorsed cap-and-trade, and the GOP no longer had such a kneejerk reaction to the concept. If only Bush had made them think it was their idea in the first place.