What Rahm Emanuel’s new priority ordering on health care also does is it pushes all the bigger bills to the end of the line, in particular, the climate and energy legislation which was already hanging by a thread.

On Wednesday, The New York Times declared the climate bill DOA, based on some quotes from Lindsey Graham, who has been leading bipartisan talks on the issue, saying that cap and trade was “going nowhere.” Graham walked back those words later, releasing a statement that he is still committed to a comprehensive bill.

But what would that bill look like? Graham keeps saying he wants more “business-friendly” climate legislation, but the Waxman-Markey bill that came out of the House was already loaded with giveaways to polluting industries. Nevertheless, the President in his State of the Union address used his climate and energy section to deliver a conservative wish list:

The capitulation to conservative narratives was particularly glaring on the subjects of climate and energy. He began well, introducing the eminently sensible notion that the U.S. needs to get cracking on creating clean energy jobs lest we have our lunch eaten by China, Germany, and India. “I do not accept second place for the United States of America,” he thundered.

Well good then! What does that mean? This was the opportunity. There are thousands of stories he could have told: about the burgeoning interest in energy efficiency and building retrofits, the cheapest and most labor-intensive way to reduce emissions; the astoundingly fast spread of distributed energy, driven by innovative financing models; the rapid growth and falling costs of wind and solar thermal power; the spread of bright green, low-carbon, walkable cities, where people benefit by living more sustainable lives. There are so many fascinating, inspiring, untold stories around energy right now. This was a real chance to open the public’s eyes to the amazing revolution happening around them—a revolution that can benefit them, employ them, and inspire them.

Instead “what it means” was, in order: nukes, offshore oil and gas drilling, biofuels, “clean coal,” and … well, that’s it. That’s right, in listing what “clean energy” means the president did not mention renewable energy. That’s just stunning. It’s 2010 and renewable energy isn’t even an afterthought? Seriously?

Obama used many of these same issues today at the Republican conference retreat. This serves just to demoralize progressives who would otherwise fight for a legitimate clean energy bill. The section on energy received the lowest rating in dial-testing by MoveOn.org members. Obama may just be saying the right words to get a bill passed inside Washington, but outside the Beltway, none of the advocates will possible go to bat for a bill like this.

That said, is there any hope for carbon limits? Not Congressional legislation per se, but limits? That becomes a slightly more hopeful question. Because the EPA has registered carbon dioxide as a polluted that must be regulated under the Clean Air Act, and the rulemaking process will simply have to go into effect in the absence of legislation, provided that Lisa Murkowski’s gambit to block the EPA fails. From an executive standpoint, Obama today ordered the federal government to reduce their personal emissions by 28% over the next decade, and he pledged an overall 17% cut by 2020 on all greenhouse gas emissions. That announcement was contingent on legislation, but the EPA could easily step in and make that a target in their rulemaking.

Also, in potentially the announcement with the most wide-ranging effects, the SEC has set a rule encouraging corporate disclosure on climate change-related issues.

Companies must consider the effects of global warming and efforts to curb climate change when disclosing business risks to investors, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Guidelines approved today require companies to weigh the impact of climate-change laws and regulations when assessing what information to include in corporate filings, the commission said. The SEC is responding to investors who said companies aren’t providing enough data on the potential risks to their profits and operations from environmental-protection laws.

“I do not believe that public companies today are doing the best job they possible can do with respect to their current mandated disclosures,” SEC Commissioner Elisse Walter said today. The decision “is designed to improve the quality of disclosures filed by U.S. public companies for the benefit of investors.”

These steps move us to a new regime, where climate change and carbon saturation in the atmosphere are taken into account in all walks of life – the public and the private sector. Brad Johnson has more.

So, to answer the question I posed: an unqualified maybe. Aren’t you glad you slogged through 774 words for that?

David Dayen

David Dayen