McCain Breaks with Bush on Climate Change
Updated 4:40 p.m.
By Juliet Eilperin
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) outlined his proposal to address climate change this morning, offering plans that would go beyond President Bush's but fall short of the bipartisan bill headed for a Senate vote next month.
Standing beside Oregon's Democratic governor Ted Kulongoski, McCain made a sharp break with President Bush and argued the U.S. should adopt mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions and issue emissions credits to polluters that they can trade in order to spur technological innovation.
"The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington," he said, speaking at a Portland training facility for Vestas Wind Technology. "We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great. The most relevant question now is whether our own government is equal to the challenge."
Rather than articulating new goals, McCain primarily reiterated his commitment to the reduction targets he outlined three years ago in the bill he co-authored with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.). Under the presumptive GOP nominee's plan, the U.S. would return to its 2005 emissions levels by 2012, would reach its 1990 levels by 2020, and cut emissions by at least 60 percent compared to 1990 levels by mid-century.
The current Senate climate bill authored by Lieberman and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), which will come to the floor in early June, calls for a 70 percent reduction in greenhouse gases compared to 1990 levels by 2050. Most scientists say the U.S. must reduce emissions by between 80 and 90 percent by mid-century, and both Democratic Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Clinton are committed to an 80 percent cut by 2050.
In his bluntest criticism of Bush yet on the question of climate, McCain said he "will not shirk" America's duty of helping forge a new international global warming pact. "I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges," he said. "The United States will lead, and it will lead with a different approach."
It is unclear exactly what that approach will look like. McCain initially had draft language in his speech saying he would favor imposing punitive tariffs on major emitting developing countries if they did not adopt more stringent curbs on greenhouse gases, but he cut that section from the speech. He spoke of working to engage China and India on the issue, and his spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said he would opt for "diplomacy and technological solutions" to ensure developing countries cut their emissions in the future.
"McCain wanted to make sure he was not being seen at odds with his support for free trade," Hazelbaker told reporters after the speech.
The Lieberman-Warner bill includes a trade sanctions provision, directing the president to penalize major foreign emitters "if eight years after the enactment of the U.S. program, it is determined that a given major emitting nation has not taken comparable action" when it comes to climate change. At that point, the bill instructs the administration to require importers of "greenhouse-gas-intensive manufactured products," such as steel and aluminum, from major emitting countries "to submit emissions credits of a value equivalent to that of the credits that the US system effectively requires of domestic manufacturers." That would amount to a tariff on China and India if they did not adopt more stringent curbs on their carbon emissions.
McCain has not said whether he will back the climate bill when it comes to the Senate for a vote in early June, since he is still negotiating over how the measure will address the question of nuclear power. Lieberman, who is campaigning actively for McCain, said Friday in an interview that he was confident his friend would back the measure.
In many ways, McCain's speech highlighted how much climate change politics has changed in recent years. Vestas president Yens Soby, whose Danish-based company ranks as the world's largest producer of wind turbines, pointed out that the fact that McCain was speaking about global warming at his company's facility shows the issue "has risen to the top of the nation's political agenda."
And some environmental advocates hailed McCain's speech as a sign that the climate policies of Bush, who has steadfastly refused adopting a federal limit on greenhouse gases during his seven-and-a-half years in office, were now dead and buried.
"Today, we entered the post-Bush era of global warming policy and politics," said Jeremy Symons, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's global warming campaign. "With all three leading presidential candidates supporting action by Congress to promptly cut greenhouse gas emissions, the countdown has begun toward enactment of a serious global warming plan."
But a slew of environmental activists and Democrats criticized McCain's plan today as inadequate in light of the most recent scientific evidence concerning global warming.
"His position has not kept pace with what the scientists say is sufficient," said Carol Browner, who served as Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President Clinton. "There's no doubt that a Democrat will be much, much better on this issue."
The Democratic presidential front-runner was sharply critical of McCain's position. "It is truly breathtaking for John McCain to talk about combating climate change while voting against virtually every recent effort to actually invest in clean energy," Obama said in a statement his campaign sent out minutes after McCain ended his speech. "You don't have to look further than the wind turbine plant where Senator McCain is speaking today to assess his commitment to this cause. While Senator McCain talks about the need to invest in alternative energy, he rejected the single biggest investment in renewable energy in history, including incentives that contributed to a nearly 50% increase in wind power generation last year, and he has repeatedly opposed renewable fuel mandates and higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks."
Key differences remain between McCain and the Democrats on climate change -- several of which the senator outlined in his talk. Both Obama and Clinton advocate auctioning off 100 percent of pollution allowances under a cap-and-trade system, which would generate hundreds of billions of dollars to either fund research and development or ease the pain of rising energy prices for American taxpayers. McCain would not specify how much of the allowances he would auction under his plan, but he made clear it would only be a portion of the credits which he would apply, along with "other federal funds to help build the infrastructure of a post-carbon economy."
McCain also emphasized the need to build more nuclear power plants in order to reduce the nation's overall emissions, saying, "here we have a known, proven energy source that requires exactly zero emissions ... 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."
Obama and Clinton are not opposed to nuclear power outright, but both have spoken about the need to address issues such as where to store nuclear waste, an issue that remains unresolved in light of the lengthy legal and political battle over placing the nation's waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain.
During his speech this afternoon McCain highlighted his personal commitment to the issue, relating how he witnessed the effects of climate change first-hand during his travels to the Arctic as a senator.
"A few years ago I traveled to the area of Svalbard, Norway, a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean," he recalled. "I was shown the southernmost point where a glacier had reached twenty years earlier. From there, we had to venture northward up the fjord to see where that same glacier ends today -- because all the rest has melted. On a trip to Alaska, I heard about a national park visitor's center that was built to offer a picture-perfect view of a large glacier. Problem is, the glacier is gone."
And McCain used the talk to bolster his bipartisan credentials, making a point of praising Kulongoski and saying he would help solve the climate crisis with the aid of leaders from both parties if elected president. "I will sit down with all the governors, whether they be Democrat or Republican, and work for the betterment of this nation," he said.
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