John McCain breaks with the Bush administration, but also with many environmentalists in a major global warming speech today.
The presumptive Republican nominee declares that climate change is undeniable and urgent, suggesting that the United States hasn't acted quickly enough and pledging to return to international negotiations. Bush refused to sign the Kyoto global warming accord.
"We have many advantages in the fight against global warming, but time is not one of them," he plans to say, according to excerpts provided by his campaign. "Instead of idly debating the precise extent of global warming, or the precise timeline of global warming, we need to deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters, and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring. 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."
While he will speak at a wind turbine plant in Portland, Ore. and says he supports clean energy alternatives, McCain also proposes an expansion of nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions -- anathema to most of the environmental community.
"[We] have a known, proven energy source that requires exactly zero emissions," he says. "We have 104 nuclear reactors in our country, generating about 20 percent of our electricity.... 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 says he would set limits on greenhouse gases and allow the sale of rights of excess emissions -- what is known as a cap and trade system. "By the year 2012, we will seek a return to 2005 levels of emission, by 2020, a return to 1990 levels, and so on until we have achieved at least a reduction of sixty percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050," he says.
McCain is also airing a new TV ad in Oregon, which is shaping up as a battleground state in the fall, on the issue. The ad argues that he offers a "better way" between those who deny climate change is real and those who want to increase taxes to solve it.
The Arizona senator -- who has said that New Hampshire voters, in his ultimately unsuccessful 2000 campaign, helped pique his interest in the climate change issue -- says in the speech that he has personal knowledge of global warming.
"A few years ago I traveled to the area of Svalbard, Norway, a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean. 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. A work of nature that took ages to form had melted away in a matter of decades."
UPDATE: The Democratic National Committee criticized McCain's environmental record.
"McCain's fundraisers and advisers helping his campaign have been on the wrong side of the issues. And a little investigation reveals that the lobbyists raising money for and running McCain's campaign have earned $13.1 million lobbying for oil companies and worked for companies responsible for oil spills, water and air pollution," the DNC said in a memo.
UPDATE: Barack Obama issued this statement: “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. 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.
“In stark contrast, I’ve called for a national standard to ensure that we're using more renewable energy, an expansion of our green energy sector that would create millions of green jobs, and a bipartisan plan to double our fuel efficiency standards. That is why the American people will have a clear choice in November when I am the nominee -- between a candidate who opposes real solutions to our energy crisis, and leadership that will solve it once and for all."
UPDATE: McCain spokesman Brian Rogers issued this statement tonight in response: "It is hypocrisy -- we would say 'breathtaking' hypocrisy, but for the fact that it's so common in the Obama campaign -- for Senator Obama to today use John McCain's vote against the 2005 Bush-Cheney energy bill to question his record and sincerity as an advocate for addressing climate change. Senator Obama voted for that bill, which included billions in oil and gas company handouts that Senator Obama claims to oppose daily on the campaign trail. By contrast, John McCain opposed that bill because it did nothing to decrease our dependence on foreign oil and failed to address global climate change while doling out over $14 billion in corporate subsidies and tax breaks. Further, John McCain has been fighting for higher fuel economy standards since 2001, before Senator Obama joined the Senate. John McCain was a driving force in pushing fuel economy standards at a time when gas prices were low and it took will and resolve -- not cheap political posturing."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.