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What to expect from Obama's speech

A dredger is pulled out to sea for work on the oil spill in Grand Isle, La.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: Later this evening the president will formally weigh in on the leak. He'll do so with all the oomph of his office behind him, that's the oval-shaped one he gets to use.

Here with a preview is our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale. Hello, John.

John Dimsdale: Hello Kai.

Ryssdal: In so far as we know right now, what's he going to say tonight?

Dimsdale: Well first, he wants to show that the government has a handle on this spill and the clean up and that things aren't quite as chaotic as it sometimes looks. I think the president will say that he's making sure that BP will pay restitution to the folks in the Gulf who've lost their means to earn a living. And then, he's going to try to use the public's attention here to breathe some life into a legislative priority that had fallen by the wayside, namely a comprehensive energy and climate change strategy. The president will argue that alternatives to fossil fuels are really the only way to make sure that this kind of environmental catastrophe could never happen again.

Ryssdal: So has this spill actually changed the dynamic on this climate bill, John?

Dimsdale: Well, there are two parts to this. Incentives for energy alternatives that has plenty of support, so that's not a problem. But climate change is much more controversial, especially when you talk about putting a price on carbon-based energy. Some say the spill has created an opportunity. For example -- Kevin Knobloch at the Union of Concerned Scientists, he expects to hear the president to first take charge of the spill and the clean up.

Kevin Knobloch: He also has a terrific opportunity to build on people's newer appreciation of the cost of relying on fossil fuels, to call on the nation to dramatically cut our oil usage.

Dimsdale: But the spill has changed the politics. Remember before, the president endorsed more oil drilling and incentives for clean coal and nuclear power, in an effort to attract conservative support. Well, more oil drilling is not an option anymore and William Galston at the Brookings Institution says if the president sticks with that formula, he'll lose support on the anti-oil drilling side.

William Galston: The potential coalition that the White House was trying to assemble in favor of a comprehensive approach seems to me to be weaker now than it was six months ago, not stronger.

Ryssdal: Well, if that's the case then, John, what does the president do, politics-wise, to see if he can get this bill done?

Dimsdale: Well, he may want to change his message a little bit. And one way to measure that is whether he will talk about cap-and-trade -- that's the way of using market-trading incentives to gradually ratchet down the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that businesses can emit into the air. The president's spokesman earlier wouldn't speculate whether President Obama would include a strong endorsement of cap-and-trade. It's already in the House bill, which is awaiting action by the Senate, and if it's not strongly backed by the president tonight, that probably indicates that he's decided that putting a price on carbon is not achievable right now.

Ryssdal: Back, very briefly John, to be BP before we let you go, the president meets with Tony Hayward, the CEO and the chairman of the board, tomorrow at the White House, doesn't he?

Dimsdale: Tomorrow, yes. And they'll definitely talk about this idea of an escrow account setting aside some money to make sure that people in the Gulf are made whole.

Ryssdal: John Dimsdale in Washington on the president's speech tonight. Thank you, John.

Dimsdale: My pleasure.

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