WASHINGTON — Wooing independent voters, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain called Monday for reductions in carbon emissions and criticized the Bush administration for failing to lead the fight against climate change.
"We have many advantages in the fight against global warming, but time is not one of them. ...We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great," McCain said in a speech delivered at a wind-energy facility in Portland, Ore. "The most relevant question is whether our own government is equal to the challenge."
McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, proposed a "cap-and-trade" system to reduce greenhouse gases and allow the sale of rights to excess emissions by firms that reduce their own emissions. He also said he'd support auctioning off permits for excessive emissions, using the revenue to "help build the infrastructure of the post-carbon economy."
Such a system would "change the dynamic of our energy economy" by giving companies incentives to invest in alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, nuclear, clean-coal, biomass and biofuels, McCain said, providing the United States with an energy supply "that is safe, secure, diverse and domestic."
McCain set a goal of returning to 2005 levels of carbon emissions by 2012, and to 1990 levels by 2020, until the United States achieves at least a 60 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.
McCain's proposal falls short of that of his Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They both called for reducing emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, in line with what's recommended by most scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
``To his credit, Senator McCain wants to do something serious about global warming, but his proposal falls far short of what the science says we need to do today," said Gene Karpinski, president of the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters. McCain's lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters is 24 percent. That compares with 87 percent for Clinton and 86 percent for Obama.
Clinton derided McCain's proposals as an improvement on President Bush's policies, "but that's not saying much."
In addition, McCain's recent proposal to suspend the federal gasoline tax isn't environmentally friendly, as it would give an incentive for greater consumption. His embrace of nuclear energy puts off environmentalists who wonder about its safety and its radioactive waste. While McCain voted against a 2005 energy bill that many criticized as a giveaway to Big Oil, he gave his speech at a facility that benefited from a provision in the bill giving tax breaks for wind energy investment.
Still, in tackling global warming, McCain went against orthodox Republican thinking. High-profile GOP congressional leaders, such as Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, have questioned whether global warming exists. The Bush administration has been accused of censoring reports that highlight its dangers.
That said, the party's thinking is evolving: Many influential GOP leaders at the state level, such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have taken stronger action and called for more at the federal level, and many social conservatives have become more environmentally aware, arguing that "creation care" is an important part of their ministries.
McCain also said that more international cooperation is needed in combating climate change, noting that little real progress could be made without involving China and India, two developing nations with enormous energy appetites that have "the potential to pollute the air faster, and in greater annual volume, than any nation ever in history."
"I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears," McCain said, in a clear swipe at the Bush administration for abandoning the Kyoto treaty on climate change in 2001. "I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges. I will not accept the same dead-end of failed diplomacy that claimed Kyoto. The United States will lead and will lead with a different approach — an approach that speaks to the interests and obligations of every nation."
McCain is hoping to attract independent voters in his White House bid, so, having effectively secured the GOP nomination, he's now trying to put a new label on what his advisers acknowledge is a damaged Republican brand.
Monday's climate-change speech comes three weeks after a high-profile tour of poverty-stricken parts of America, during which McCain said in New Orleans that the Bush administration had failed miserably in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.