President Bush's staff promises that his pronouncements tonight on energy and climate will "knock your socks off" and score headlines "above the fold."

Listen for soaring new goals for biofuels such as ethanol, a plea for more presidential power to boost vehicle fuel economy and perhaps a more concrete acknowledgment of climate change.

Cue polite applause but not exactly shock and awe.

"This might be a Nixon-going-to-China story, but it's hard to imagine it," said Dan Sperling, director of the University of California Institute for Transportation Studies at Davis.

Lawmakers in Congress are racing ahead of the president and his State of the Union, offering 35-mph vehicles and multiple "cap-and-trade" bills to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

Ten top industrial and utility CEOs rose in the National Press Club on Monday and said "we must act now" to cut global warming pollution.

"The key is setting clear targets and timetables and then letting the market find the best solutions," said Peter Darbee, president and CEO of PG&E.

Jeffrey Immelt, president of General Electric, said the corporate executives came together this summer after a "meeting of the science" and "what I would call the tapestry of regulation and a mood change" among the public.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she expects her chamber to pass some form of global warming legislation by mid-summer. "You have to be a stone in Washington not to feel the political pressure," Skip Horvath, CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association, said at a Washington energy forum Monday. "The dam is about to burst on climate change."

While Congress and the president are just beginning the discussion, California is well down the road. Indeed, as advisers helped put finishing touches on the president's proposal Monday, California regulators were taking suggestions on how to meet emissions limits already in place.

At a hearing in Sacramento, the California Air Resources Board heard ideas on how California might meet the aggressive goals Gov. Schwarzenegger established when he signed the nation's first global warming bill into law last year. Ideas bounced from the automobile air conditioning systems to livestock feedlots and gas stations around the Golden State, with attendant debate about the impact on industry profits and the poor.

Washington barely has begun that conversation. And the president in his State of the Union, according to administration officials, isn't about to start.

White House staff have rebuffed efforts by Congress to negotiate limits on greenhouse-gas emissions and create a market so businesses can purchase rights to emit more greenhouse gases as needed.

President Bush ruled out mandatory reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions in 2001, favoring encouragement of voluntary cuts and investment in low-carbon technologies.

"They will tell you even now that the president made a decision back in the beginning of his administration, and they're very adamant that's their position today," said a Senate staff member.

"I'm not sure that they fully appreciate how the dynamics of this have changed."

House and Senate lawmakers are jockeying over the pace of greenhouse gas reductions and incentives. But most bills share a market scheme like the European Union has.

The CEOs of Caterpillar, BP America, General Electric and power companies from California to the Southeast said Monday that such an emissions trading scheme was necessary to put a price on carbon and drive the low-carbon technologies that would keep the United States competitive.

"There is a clear business case for governments to intervene," said Richard Fuld, CEO of Lehman Bros., the nation's fourth largest investment firm.

Policy analysts say the time is over for technology spending and voluntary reductions alone to make a significant dent in emissions.

"In and of itself, that's fine but it's not enough. It will never get you there without a price for carbon," said economist Ray Kopp, a senior fellow and director of the climate and technology policy program at the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future.

California took those steps last year. Now the state's air-resources board intends by this summer to identify "early actions" it can take to trim greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 — a 25 percent cut. Foremost among those actions is the governor's low-carbon fuels initiative, signed last week, which would drop the carbon content of fuels by 10 percent by 2020.

Other proposals Monday from state staff, environmentalists and industry executives included capturing methane from dairy farms and feedlots and easing emissions by cement makers. Environmentalists suggested that hidden but substantial gains could come from banning do-it-yourself recharging of refrigerants and promoting alternate-fueled vehicles and smoother-rolling, fuel-efficient tires.

Most suggestions centered on automobile emissions, which account for 40 percent of the state's greenhouse gas load.

The board hopes to have by July a list of measures that will take effect in 2010.

But there are worries. Banning refrigerants would require those who now drop $5 on a can of coolant to spend upwards of $100 at an auto shop, critics said.

Imposing an alternate-fueled vehicle mandate could run into the same lawsuits, industry resistance and technological barriers as the state's ill-fated battery-car mandate of the 1990s.

Many in industry are also wary of the considerable uncertainty as California and other states push ahead.

DuPont, for instance, was one company calling for a cap on carbon emissions in Washington on Monday morning. Nine hours later, at a hearing in Sacramento, a DuPont executive urged California environmental officials "to stay connected" with Washington on global warming regulation.

Contact Douglas Fischer at dfischer@angnewspapers.com or at (510) 208-6425. Contact Ian Hoffman at ihoffman@angnewspapers.com or at (510) 208-6458.