Wednesday, May 14, 2008

McCain on the Environment

As has been said before, despite being dubbed the independent-minded “Maverick”, John McCain’s voting record is far from independent…or even moderate. But his walk down the political tight-rope plays well in a general election because the perception of "Maverickism" allows him to court voters outside of the Republican base without necessarily alienating that base by taking tough votes. In fact, he votes with Bush Republicans 9 out of every 10 times.

The voice that once challenged the “agents of intolerance” within his party has been silenced. And the stances he has taken at the displeasure of the Right-wing base have been flip-flopped or slowly back-tracked (the speed dependent upon political expediency). Overall, it has been pretty much the opposite of “straight talk.”

Think about it. The leadership McCain showed in crafting a compromise on immigration reform has been over-shadowed by his quick capitulation on the issue in the face of criticism from the xenophobic elements of his base. On judges, he has down-played his role in the “Gang of 14,” embraced the Scalia judicial philosophy, and appealed to conservatives by naming Sam Brownback as Chair of his so-called “Justice Advisory Committee”. On torture, he quickly surrendered his honorable position as the unquestioned voice of American values and reason when that position became a nuisance to a reckless President.

But alas, there are environmental issues. If there is one consistent moderate stance that John McCain has championed to swoon more progressive voters, it has been on climate change. But is he as reliable on these issues as we think? According to the Post, maybe not. Some excerpts:

An examination of McCain's voting record shows an inconsistent approach to the environment: He champions some "green" causes while casting sometimes contradictory votes on others.

The senator from Arizona has been resolute in his quest to impose a federal limit on greenhouse gas emissions, even when it means challenging his own party. But he has also cast votes against tightening fuel-efficiency standards and resisted requiring public utilities to offer a specific amount of electricity from renewable sources. He has worked to protect public lands in his home state, winning a 2001 award from the National Parks Conservation Association for helping give the National Park Service some say over air tours around the Grand Canyon, work that prompts former interior secretary and Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt to call him "a great friend of the canyon." But he has also pushed to set aside Endangered Species Act protections when they conflict with other priorities, such as the construction of a University of Arizona observatory on Mount Graham.

McCain scores significantly lower than his Democratic rivals for the presidency, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), in interest groups' studies of his environmental voting record. McCain's lifetime League of Conservation Voters score is 24 percent, compared with 86 for Obama and 86 for Clinton; Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund's conservation report card gave him 38 percent in the 108th Congress and 40 in the 109th. (McCain has missed every major environmental vote this Congress, giving him a zero rating.)

When (Gene) Karpinski (President of the League of Conservation Voters) tells audiences about McCain's environmental scorecard rating, he said, "jaws drop. . . . I tell them, 'He's not as green as you think he is.' "

...On the campaign trail, McCain is more than eager to go toe-to-toe with skeptics of global warming who attend his town hall forums. When a man in Michigan asked him last week why the United States was not drilling in the Arctic refuge and off California's coasts, McCain replied that, as a federalist, he thinks states have the right to make those decisions. "I can't say we should drill in the most pristine parts of America," he told the questioner, adding that he believes in finding new sources of oil, "But I also believe sooner or later we have got to become energy-independent, we've got to reduce greenhouse gases. That means nuclear, wind, solar, tide, et cetera."

For the most part, McCain follows a fairly instinctive approach to deciding environmental questions. In recent interviews he has said he thinks the government should list polar bears as endangered because shrinking sea ice threatens their survival, that sharks deserve protection because they're a crucial part of the marine food web, and that the nation needs to act on climate change because it risks an environmental catastrophe if it doesn't.

Many advocates said they remain uncertain as to how McCain would tackle environmental issues if elected president this fall. They are still waiting to see whether he will vote in favor of Lieberman's latest climate bill, which is headed to the Senate next month.

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