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McCain Promises an ‘Urgent’ Approach to Climate Change Challenge

Perhaps no issue offers Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a cleaner break with the man he hopes to replace in the White House than global warming.

“Whether we call it ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming,’ in the end we’re all left with the same set of facts,” McCain said in a recent speech in Oregon. “The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington.”

[IMGCAP(1)] McCain formed bipartisan alliances on climate change legislation throughout President Bush’s first term, while the White House and some key Congressional Republicans were questioning whether human activities really did have an effect on the global temperatures and related environmental disruptions.

Now, McCain says, “Some of the most compelling evidence of global warming comes to us from NASA. No longer do we need to rely on guesswork and computer modeling, because satellite images reveal a dramatic disappearance of glaciers, Antarctic ice shelves and polar ice sheets.”

In 2007, McCain proposed three pieces of climate change legislation with Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), and both of his potential Democratic rivals in the presidential race agreed to be co-sponsors.

McCain has endorsed placing a cap on overall emissions of greenhouse gases and allowing companies to buy and sell credits to stay beneath prescribed limits, in a strategy patterned after the federal acid rain program. McCain believes the potential for profit will motivate companies to clean up their acts.

“The goal in all of this is to ensure an energy supply that is safe, secure, diverse and domestic,” McCain said, adding that the United States’ dependency on foreign oil is less than desirable.

The cap-and-trade program would encompass electric power, transportation fuels and commercial and industrial businesses, which make up 90 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Exceptions would be made for small businesses. The Arizona Senator wants to slash emissions to 60 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050, while Democratic contenders Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) propose reducing emissions by 80 percent below the 1990 levels.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin — McCain’s senior policy adviser and a former director of the Congressional Budget Office — says the crux of the plan is its practicality, both in aiding the environment and in getting through Congress.

“I think it’s a realistic road map to getting something done on this important issue,” Holtz-Eakin said. “It would be possible to appeal to strictly the environmental community by raising the emissions limits. This is a plan that is tailored to get through the U.S. Congress and put us in the driver’s seat internationally.”

McCain also acknowledges the need for countries like China and India to participate in efforts to control global warming.

“I think the first and most overlooked point is that China, for example, has a tremendous self interest to address this problem,” Holtz-Eakin said. “If you look at the shots of the world taken at night … they are just as exposed to sea level rise as the other countries.”

In addition to cap-and-trade, McCain has touted the virtues of renewable energy sources like wind power, calling it “a clean and predictable source of energy and about as renewable as anything on earth.” But McCain has voted against mandates that would require electric companies to incorporate renewable energy sources into their plans.

While nuclear power remains controversial after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, McCain says it is an important element in reducing emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

“We have 104 nuclear reactors in our country, generating about 20 percent of our electricity,” McCain said. “These reactors alone spare the atmosphere from about 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released every year. That’s the annual equivalent of nearly all emissions from all the cars we drive in America.”

In April, both McCain and Clinton were heavily criticized for proposing their own versions of a gas tax holiday that would temporarily suspend federal taxes on gas and diesel. McCain offered legislation that would suspend the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day 2008. The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee. McCain has also voiced support for higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.

On alternative fuels, the Arizona Republican has been a long-time foe of subsidies for ethanol and other fuels — going so far as to skip campaigning in Iowa during his unsuccessful 2000 campaign for the GOP nomination.

McCain now says that he supports some ethanol incentives, although he has also said that he would like to see sugar cane and switch grass used to manufacture biofuels.

McCain’s campaign did not answer questions about ethanol and biofuels issues by press time.

But McCain did oppose the recent conference report for the farm bill, calling it a “bloated piece of legislation that will do more harm than good for most farmers and consumers.” The bill allotted more than $1.6 billion for renewable fuel research, specifically cellulosic ethanol.

This, McCain says, is a mistake. “We must question policies that divert over 25 percent of corn out of the food supply and into subsidized ethanol production,” the Senator said in a floor statement. “Do Americans really want a support system that costs consumers $2 billion annually in higher sugar prices? Will we truly reduce our dependency on foreign oil by extending tariffs that make it too expensive to invest in sugar ethanol production?”

As food costs rise, McCain and 23 of his Republican colleagues signed a letter urging Environment Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson to scale back the use of ethanol and research other fuel methods.

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