In a speech today, Sen. John McCain framed his goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050 through a cap-and-trade regulation as a middle path between economy-crippling laws and denial that there's even a problem.
The system he envisions is hardly different from that proposed by his Democratic challengers, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The big difference is the target: The Democrats, choosing a goal established by the United Nations and legions of scientists, would aim for 80% reductions in carbon dioxide pollution by 2050.
Another difference is that the Democrats want to see all pollution credits auctioned, whereas McCain would give away many credits to current polluters, like coal-fired power plants. McCain is also more supportive of nuclear power, whereas the Democrats are unenthusiastic at best, given the long-term problem of dealing with radioactive wastes.
His speech failed to win over the Sierra Club.
"While Senator McCain deserves credit for his work on early global warming legislation in the Senate and for bringing attention to the need for urgent action, his plan is driven by yesterday's solutions and they won't solve tomorrow's problems. The science on global warming has changed dramatically over the last five years and Senator McCain's proposals are outdated and fail to provide the big changes Americans are demanding," Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said. "Like President Bush, McCain's policies on global warming offer more of the same, by putting the interests of polluters over the people and failing to invest in building a clean energy economy that will create new jobs and opportunities at a time when an economic boost is sorely needed. Americans want real change investment in clean, renewable energy instead of Big Oil, Nuclear power and other polluting industries. We need more windmills not windfalls. Unfortunately Senator McCain's plan is designed to fail."
Based on press coverage of the speech, there was no new policy McCain outlined. The news is how he's positioning himself politically as an alternative to both George W. Bush and to the Democrats. Here's a look at McCain's latest ad, about global warming:
McCain became an early champion in the Senate of a cap-and-trade bill to rein in the carbon dioxide fueling global warming. That's earned him respect among environmental advocates and an easy hook to hang his hat on. He won the early and enthusiastic endorsement of Republicans for Environmental Protection.
But his lifetime voting record, as measured by the League of Conservation Voters, reveals a senator who did not vote consistently for the measures supported by environmental groups. His lifetime score is 24%, compared with 86% for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. In 2007, he scored a zero, out of a possible 100, primarily because he missed votes on failing measures that might have passed if he had been on the Senate floor and not out campaigning.
This year, he's championed a gas tax holiday that major economists, environmentalists and think-tank analysts have derided, in part because it will encourage more oil consumption at a time when the nation needs to find a way to reduce its dependence on oil.
McCain wants the environment to be among the defining features of his presidential bid, in part because it sets him clearly apart from that other Republican in the Oval Office, George W. Bush, who has been roundly criticized as one of the worst presidents on environmental issues in the modern era. It's certainly true that Democrats will have trouble arguing that McCain would represent four more years of the Bush Administration an increasingly common attack when it comes to environmental issues.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.