Monday, May 12, 2008

McCain on the Environment

Some readers might be interested in this review of McCain's environmental record. In terms of voter scorecards he does not register very well. According to the article, the League of Conservation Voters gives him a 24% lifetime score. (Clinton and Obama both get an 86% lifetime score.) Scores alone are of limited usefulness since they mask individual priorities and (to some extent) the machinations necessary to pass legislation. So it helps to delve into the details.

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....

"Look, he always balances what are the environmental implications of these enterprises and what are the economic benefits that could come from them," Holtz-Eakin said. "That is, in general, an approach which may be harder to read than a flat ideological X or Y, but it's how he reads these things, it's how he evaluates these kinds of decisions." ...

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.

The senator does not boast an extensive staff of experts on these issues, however, and doesn't delve into the scientific and policy details the way former vice president Al Gore or some of his Senate colleagues do. In one conversation on his "Straight Talk Express" campaign bus, he voiced his frustration with activists who oppose nuclear power plants....

As a result, 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.
The article seems to have run in preparation for a speech on environmental policy that McCain is giving today. Here is a preview.

My impression in reading these is that McCain is not as outrightly hostile to the environment as some other members of his party, but that conservation is not a strong priority. Time will tell if that impression is correct. Unfortunately, coverage of the candidates' plans has been limited, with few questions on climate change and conservation during debates and interviews. Better coverage would give us a better sense how candidates would handle environmental protection.

See also his advisor's op-ed.