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Obama pushes energy-climate bill in oil spill speech

President seeks to rally support for legislative action on an energy and climate bill, saying he's open to a variety of approaches.

President Obama used an Oval Office address on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to push for energy and climate legislation, but made clear that a variety of options are on the table.

During his speech Tuesday evening, in which he also held BP to account for its role in the Gulf disaster, Obama said that the oil spill is a painful reminder of why the U.S. needs to cut its dependence on oil and make a transition to cleaner energy sources.

For more than a year, Congress has been working on different versions of an energy and climate bill that, if passed into law, could have a significant impact on the pace of green-technology development.

In addition to closely reading the details of any energy bill, businesses in the field are watching for signs of how strong U.S. support is for clean energy, as many countries around the world are seeking to attract these companies. Consumers, too, could be affected by incentives, such as further tax breaks for efficient homes and vehicles.

Obama highlighted some of the proposals, including tighter efficiency standards, a mandate to produce more solar and wind power, and an increase in research and development spending for clean-energy technologies.

"All of these approaches have merit, and deserve a fair hearing in the months ahead. But the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet," he said. (Click for transcript.)

He likened the country's sustainable energy efforts to the quest to travel to the moon or ramp up manufacturing during World War II and he warned that "countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America."

During his campaign, Obama advocated a variety of clean-energy incentives as well as a cap on carbon emissions from industries, through which businesses would be able to buy and sell carbon permits. Obama did not specifically call for a cap-and-trade regime on Tuesday, perhaps a reflection on the difficulty of passing such regulations in the Congress.

The House narrowly passed an energy and climate bill last year that included a number of clean-energy and efficiency incentives as well as a cap-and-trade system. Over the past several months, various versions of energy bills have been offered by senators, some of which limit carbon emissions separately by industry, with different approaches for utilities than for the oil and gas industry.

Even with the Gulf oil crisis, passing an energy and climate bill that significantly advances green technologies is considered extremely difficult, given the country's heavy reliance on coal and oil. Apparently speaking to both lawmakers and the general citizenry on Tuesday, Obama said the U.S. should "seize the moment" and move more aggressively on clean energy.

"Now, there are costs associated with this transition. And some believe we can't afford those costs right now. I say we can't afford not to change how we produce and use energy--because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater," he said.