What’s in a name?

WHAT’S IN A NAME?…. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s comments yesterday on cap-and-trade generated fair amount of attention, but I’m not sure if he actually made any news with his remarks.

“Cap-and-trade” isn’t part of the Obama administration’s lexicon anymore when it comes to addressing climate change, a top cabinet secretary said Wednesday.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar sent signals that the White House believes the controversial climate change regulatory system, which passed through the House last year, was unlikely to emerge from Senate talks on a compromise energy and climate bill.

“I think the term ‘cap-and-trade’ is not in the lexicon anymore,” Salazar, a former senator, said during an interview on CNBC when asked if the climate change regulation system would be abandoned.

Some interpreted this as a new shift in rhetoric, and possibly even policy. I don’t think that’s quite right.

For months, there’s been a shift away from the three-word phrase, “cap-and-trade.” Nearly four months ago, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who’s helping lead a tri-partisan group on finding a compromise energy/climate package, told reporters, “You remember the artist formerly known as Prince? This is the market-based system for punishing polluters previously known as ‘cap and trade.'”

The same week, the White House signaled its preference for characterizing the effort as “energy independence legislation.”

More recently, the New York Times reported, “[C]ap and trade remains very much a part of the debate on what legislation will look like when the closed-door negotiations are finished.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), working with Lieberman and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), reportedly told environmentalists last week that “cap-and-trade is dead,” but Graham “remains committed to putting a price on carbon emissions. And the proposal he is working on … is likely to utilize the cap-and-trade mechanism when it comes to the electric utility industry, and later to manufacturers.”

So, the phrase may not be “in the lexicon anymore,” but that decision was made quite a while ago, and it’s still very much in the policy mix.