Where’s McCain on Climate Change?
Remember the Where's Waldo? books, in which the reader has to find that tiny white-and-red-shirted Waldo in a sea of strange looking characters? I'm beginning to think that McCain's the new Waldo when it comes to climate change -- when it comes to actually voting on climate change issues, he's nowhere to be found.
The Senate voted to debate an important new climate bill on Monday -- the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act -- and John McCain was conspicuously absent. Not that this is anything new for McCain -- in the past he's repeatedly missed votes on key climate legislation. But perhaps the most bizarre part about McCain's most recent Waldo-like stunt is that McCain initially was quite supportive of the bill.
On May 9, Time's Swampland reported that McCain was strongly supporting the climate bill:
With Lieberman at his side, McCain was asked about the climate bill. "I hope it will pass," he said, "and I hope the entire Congress will join in supporting it and the President of the United States would sign it."
But by May 29, McCain had changed his tune. As the Washington Post reported,
With the debate set to begin Monday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will miss the entire proceedings because he will be campaigning all week. In a press conference Wednesday McCain defended his decision to skip the vote, and outlined his opposition to the bill. "First of all, I have not been there for a number of votes. The same thing happened in the campaign of 2000," he said. "The people of Arizona understand I'm running for president of the United States."
Notably, McCain is close friends with both Lieberman and Warner, and has co-sponsored climate change legislation with Lieberman in the past.
This isn't the first time that McCain has gone AWOL on key climate change issues. As David Roberts wrote in The Nation:
* On June 21, 2007, the Senate voted on the Baucus amendment to the energy bill, which would have removed some oil company subsidies in order to fund renewable energy. The amendment failed to pass. Where was McCain? He didn't vote.
* On the same day, the Senate held a cloture vote to overcome the standard Republican veto threat and pass the energy bill. The vote succeeded. Where was McCain? He didn't vote.
* On Dec. 7, the Senate held another cloture vote to overcome the standard Republican veto threat on the energy bill, which had become substantially bolder after being aligned with the House version. The vote failed. Where was McCain? He didn't vote.
* On Dec. 13, 2007, the Senate held another cloture vote to overcome the standard Republican veto threat and pass the energy bill, which had the Renewable Portfolio Standard stripped out of it but retained a measure that would shift oil company subsidies to renewables. The vote failed -- by one vote, 59-40. Where was McCain? He didn't vote -- the only Senator not to do so.
* On Feb. 6, 2008, the Senate held another cloture vote to overcome the standard Republican veto threat and pass a stimulus bill containing a number of green energy incentives. The cloture motion failed, by one vote. Where was McCain? He didn't vote -- again, the only Senator not to do so.
In all fairness, neither of the Democratic candidates showed up for the vote, either. But at least they have a decent excuse -- Tuesday was the last primary of the election, so both had good reasons to continue campaigning. And both Clinton and Obama have solid policies on climate change which go far beyond the standards in the Lieberman-Warner Act.
The bill, overall, is a good compromise towards the energy policy that the U.S. should be adopting. Although it doesn't go as far as the proposed environmental plans of either Clinton or Obama, or more stringent Boxer-Sanders climate legislation, it does take important first steps towards an energy policy that's healthy for the planet. The bill reduces emissions by 71% below 2005 levels by 2050 (not the amount recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 -- but at least it sets a target) and sets up a cap-and-trade system in which some permits (but unlike Clinton's and Obama's, not 100%) are auctioned. For analysis of the bill, check out Kate Sheppard's post on Grist or the analysis from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.