Distancing himself from President Bush, John McCain pledged a new era of environmental stewardship Monday as he outlined his plan to address global warming, a cause he has embraced since activists hounded him during his 2000 run for president.
At a wind turbine manufacturer here, McCain called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by mid-century and pledged to take the lead in pressing rising economic powers India and China to cut emissions.
“I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears,” McCain said, alluding to Bush, who withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to curtail emissions. “I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges.”
Referring to melting glaciers in the Arctic Ocean and the vanishing habitats of polar bears and walruses, the Arizona senator and presumptive Republican nominee for president said it was time to stop quibbling over the causes of global warming. He pledged to “deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring.”
McCain is emphasizing the environment while he tours the Pacific Northwest this week, seeking the support of independent voters. Although environmental groups regard McCain more favorably than most Republicans, some view his record as disappointing.
The League of Conservation Voters has given McCain a lifetime grade of 24% on what it considers crucial environmental votes, while his Democratic rivals, Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, scored 86% and 87%, respectively.
Cathy Duvall, national political director for the Sierra Club, said McCain’s emphasis on global warming glossed over “a mixed record on a whole range of other issues -- whether it’s regulating polluters to protecting open space.”
Even with the environmental causes he has embraced, McCain sometimes is criticized for not going far enough.
He has opposed a federal standard on renewable energy while his opponents have called for drawing as much as a quarter of the nation’s energy from such sources within two decades. He wrote legislation to raise fuel economy standards to 36 mpg over 13 years, yet didn’t support an alternate proposal to increase the requirement to 40 mpg.
McCain frequently touches on other environmental interests on the campaign trail, including protecting Florida’s Everglades and restoring jobs in Michigan by investing in “green” technologies. He likes to tell reporters about the pair of hawks that nest in the trees above his home outside Sedona, Ariz., and his recent rim-to-rim trek across the Grand Canyon.
On Monday, McCain said he would achieve his emissions targets through a “cap and trade system” similar to the one he introduced with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in 2003. He said the approach, by allowing companies to buy or trade emissions credits, would allow the market to “reward any person or company that seeks to invent, improve or acquire alternatives to carbon-based energy.”
Without providing specifics, McCain said he would “add to current federal efforts” to develop technologies such as plug-in, hybrid, flex-fuel and hydrogen-powered vehicles. He also called for applying better environmental standards for “every purchase government makes.”
As he often does, McCain pushed to expand nuclear power, which some environmentalists deride as costly and risky. “It doesn’t take a leap in logic to conclude that if we want to arrest global warming, then nuclear energy is a powerful ally in that cause,” McCain said, adding that innovations can reduce the potential hazards of nuclear power.
Both Clinton and Obama favor reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by mid-century. On Monday, Clinton said McCain’s proposal did not “go far enough.” Obama chided McCain for “voting against virtually every recent effort to actually invest in clean energy.”
Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, said McCain’s accomplishments were being overlooked. “Yes, it’s important to have a plan out there,” he said, alluding to Clinton and Obama, “but the real test of leadership is what do you do to make that bill law.”