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McCain Talks with GM workers

By Juliet Eilperin
WARREN, Mich.--Speaking to a group of General Motors Corp. employees, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) promised to provide a $5,000 tax credit for Americans who buy electric-powered cars such as the future Chevy Volt and "other automobiles that put us on the path to energy independence," even as he suggested he might alter his climate plan to aid the auto industry.

McCain lavished praise upon GM, its workers, the heartland and other Michigan-related subjects in the course of an hour-long town hall meeting here.

"The eyes of the world are now on the Volt," he said, adding that it and other innovations will help wean the U.S. off foreign oil. "We have to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil as a national security, economic and environmental issue. My friends, we can do this."

While many members of the audience were supportive of the presumptive GOP nominee, some questioned why he backed a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, an exchange which prompted McCain to float the idea of "accommodations" for automakers.

One employee asked if "the science of man-made global warming has really been proven," and added that if the government established a carbon cap "how can that possibly help a great company like General Motors?" McCain said he believes the U.S. has to act more aggressively to curb global warming pollution.

The senator said that he believes "there is sufficient evidence to take action" even if not every scientist agrees humans are causing climate change. "That's the preponderance of scientific evidence, it's not the unanimity of scientific evidence."

But after the questioner continued to complain about how a cap-and-trade system would harm GM, McCain answered he could "make accommodations" on that front.

"I think we've got to adjust those standards so it doesn't kill off the industry," he said.

Some GM employees said they were pleased that McCain identified them as one of the driving forces in shifting the U.S. toward a cleaner future. Richard Smith Jr., an independent, said before McCain spoke that he was hoping to hear about "how do we protect our economy and our jobs here and not have them go overseas."

After the meeting, Smith said he left with "a very positive" impression of the GOP senator. "I was actually very impressed with what he had to say about green technology and the focus on the auto industry leading the way in this new economy."

McCain touted several positions that run counter to environmental protection, asking at one point, "Is there anyone here who doesn't think we need to drill offshore, to exploit our own natural resources?" When a woman raised her hand, he smiled and said, "There is someone here."

Later, he said that he backed the idea of states setting their own fuel economy standards, despite the fact that he voted last year for a tighter federal fuel economy standard for cars and trucks as part of the 2007 energy bill.

"At the end of the day, I think the states should make these decisions," he said.

Later, in a press conference, he said he understands that auto companies disagree with a state-by-state standard. "They are opposed to my position and we have a disagreement," he said, adding that he has "sympathy" for the automakers. In response to a question on whether he still supports a federal fuel standard, he replied, "I'll get back to you. It's a complicated issue."

Before taking the stage McCain surveyed a prototype of the Volt, which will be powered by a lithium-ion battery and have the power to use gas and in some instance, E85 ethanol, to recharge the battery while driving. The Volt will be able to run exclusively on electric power for 40 miles, and will require additional fuel for further distances.

McCain said he was "very excited" about the Volt, though he added, "I know it still poses significant challenges, technological and otherwise."

A team of GM executives, including CEO Rick Wagoner, its chairman of product development Bob Lutz, global vehicle line executive Frank Weber and Beth Lowery, the company's vice president for environment, energy and safety policy, were on hand.

By Washington Post Editors  |  July 18, 2008; 11:42 AM ET
Categories:  John McCain  
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