by Edward Flattau
John McCain comes across as a watered down environmental version of Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, his two democratic foes vying for the presidency.
When compared to President Bush, McCain—the presumptive Republican presidential nominee—looks like the second coming of Rachael Carson. Where Bush has equivocated about taking steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming, Senator McCain has pushed for a reduction, albeit at a more modest level than the one advocated by Obama and Clinton. He also has issued less ambitious proposals than his democratic counterparts for automobile fuel economy standards. As with the two Democrats, McCain in the past has opposed oil drilling in the pristine coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
But some serious red flags must be raised about McCain’s “green” credentials. Compared to his democratic rivals, the Arizona senator is frequently vague about the specifics of his future environmental policies. His ambiguity is suspected of being employed to strengthen his hand in the general election by pandering to the Far Right, which happens to be a part of his core constituency. Those folks tend to be hostile as a rule to environmental regulation.
Ambiguity is not the only unsettling aspect of McCain’s environmental stance. For all his touting of his “green” credentials, he has a lifetime environmental voting score of 24 in the Senate compared to Clinton’s 87 and Obama’s 86 [compiled by the League of Conservation Voters, the lobbying arm of the national environmental movement]. In addition, McCain did not bother to show up for any of the 27 major legislative environmental votes in 2007, the only member of Congress to be totally in absentia. What does that say about his environmental commitment?
Even more disturbing, McCain in contrast to his democratic opponents, has favored huge tax breaks for the multinational oil companies and large subsidies for the nuclear power industry while supporting reduced federal subsidies for clean, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
There are some worrisome deficiencies even in his supposed strong suits. He says he won’t get aggressive in combating climate change until China and India do, thereby indicating the United States under his aegis would not take the lead in setting the example for the rest of the world. The Democrats’ plan would take the initiative, and rightfully so given we are the most prolific polluter on the planet.
True, McCain opposed drilling on ANWR, yet he has voted to keep money in the federal budget for oil exploration within that Alaskan wilderness. He also backed the confirmation of Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a Bush-appointed outspoken champion of ANWR development.
How representative of his environmental values was his opposition to continuing conservation safeguards for the California desert wilderness and research on grizzly bear survival in Montana?
For a professed environmentalist, McCain has had little to say about improving public transit or creating “green” jobs. Certainly, he was a maverick when he ran against George W. Bush in the GOP primary eight years ago. But in 2008, he has shed that label by capitulating frequently to an anti-regulatory Far Right to firm up his political base. Would he revert to his “maverick” style of politics when in the White House, or would he need ultra-conservatives’ support even more in an attempt to enact his overall agenda?
George W. Bush promised to regulate the greenhouse gaseous carbon dioxide if elected president, but once he made it to the Oval Office, he caved in to the anti-regulation faction of his own party and broke his pledge.
Since John McCain would be subject to those same pressures if he won the presidency, he must be considered at best an unknown quantity with a substantial downside risk vis-à-vis environmental policy. His democratic opponents carry no such negative baggage.
@Copyright 2008, Edward Flattau