After a starring role in 2013, look for just a climate change cameo in this year's State of the Union

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". Back now to tonight's State of the Union speech by President Obama and some of the things our own observers here at The World will be listening for. Our Environment Editor, Peter Thomson, is here with me now. And, Peter, you, along with several of our colleagues on the show, will be live-tweeting the President's speech tonight using the hashtag #worldwatches and you'll obviously be focused on the environment. Let's dig in briefly to how that will figure into Obama's address. What will you be listening for tonight?

Peter Thomson: Well, obviously climate change is the big defining environmental issue of the day of the President's term in office. It played a huge role in last year's speech. I went back and looked today - seven paragraphs in last year's State of the Union address. That was in large part because of Hurricane Sandy. It was still front and center in the national mindset at the moment. Images impacts were just really roiling at the time. The President used the occasion again last year to call on Congress to pass a comprehensive climate bill, but he also tacitly acknowledged that wasn't going to happen and basically promised that the administration would move on its own anyway, not wait for Congress, which it did. And in June, the President announced this big climate action plan, stuff they can do without Congress. Among other things, it promised to tighten regulations on coal-fired power plants, those things have already begun to come out, promised to set a high environmental bar for evaluating the Keystone XL pipeline coming down from Canada, and said the government would start taking climate change into account in all of its operations and everything it does. That was last year. This year, I expect a lot less. I'll be listening for new initiatives and new ideas, but I really don't expect to hear any.

Werman: Why the change? I mean so much attention to climate last year and likely a lot less this year in your opinion. Why?

Thomson: Well, it's been a really tough year for Obama and I think he really wants to focus on the stuff that's really going to rally the largest part of America to support his program for the next three years. And income inequality is the big issue in the United States right now. It also plays well into the healthcare debate which is starting to come back around into his favor again. So he's going to go to his strengths right now. But also we've still got this sort of drip-drip-drip of bad climate news and fresh warnings that it's getting very serious and time to deal with is running out, but there hasn't been this kind of single riveting event like there was last year that focuses people's minds on it.

Werman: Like Sandy?

Thomson: Like Sandy. Right. And these speeches almost are always driven more by the politics of the moment than by the difficult long-term chronic issues.

Werman: I've got to ask you about the Keystone pipeline, that massive oil link from the Tar Sands in Canada to the US Midwest. Climate activists say it's one of the biggest environmental decisions a president will ever make. We've been waiting on some kind of decision for more than a year now. Do you expect to hear anything on Keystone tonight?

Thomson: I'd be very surprised if he brings it up. The politics just don't play well for him on it right now. He laid down his standard last year for evaluating it. The decision is going to be made later this year and it's really on him and John Kerry. He's not going to persuade anybody one way or the other that's going to change anything on that. Having said that, if you're watching on MSNBC tonight, you're going to hear about Keystone because Tom Steyer who is that zillionaire environmentalist who wants to sort of be the liberal counterpart to the Koch brothers is book-ending the speech with ads, putting the pressure on Obama to reject the Keystone pipeline. So Obama might not mention it, but it's still going to be in play.

Werman: The World's Environment Editor, Peter Thomson. Thank you.

Thomson: Thanks, Marco.