When McCain Bit His Tongue

The treason past, the traitor is no longer needed.

Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Life is a Dream

It’s nice to have Mr. McCain back on our side. He went missing before the election. It turns out he hadn,t changed his spots. He’d just hidden them for the sake of expediency. They were hidden when he campaigned for Mr. Bush thus giving the impression that George Bush was a better friend of his than was the environment. His betrayal of the environment was only brief-its consequences will be longer lasting.

Mr. Bush’s awkward relationship to the environment goes back some time just as Mr. McCain’s friendship to it does. It was Mr. McCain who, with Joe Lieberman, wrote a bill intended to curb greenhouse gases. It is George Bush who opposed that bill and other environmentally friendly measures.

In June 2002, Mr. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency issued a report that said global warming is primarily caused by emissions from cars, power plants and oil refineries. It said in part that “greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing global mean surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.” Gas emissions, said the report, will increase by 43 percent between 2000 and 2020. The report said that: “There is general agreement that the observed warming is real and has been particularly strong within the past 20 years.”

That report and its conclusions. flew in the face of Mr. Bush’s scientific understanding, such as it was. Summoning his most persuasive arguments against it Mr. Bush said that it was “put out by the bureaucracy,” thus, he hoped, vanquishing it. Not to be outdone by his boss’s ignorance, his toadie and then press secretary, Ari Fleisher, said that there is “considerable uncertainty” on the scientific causes of global warming. Any way, the administration said, it had a plan of its own to deal with global warming. It needed to say it had a plan since Mr. Bush had disavowed the Kyoto Agreement on global warming.

Unlike the provisions of the Kyoto Agreement which mandated that steps be taken to counter global warming, the Bush plan relied on voluntary compliance and lower expectations. Whereas the Kyoto agreement envisioned reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent overall and 7 percent in the U.S. by 2012, the Bush’s plan sought reduction of only 4.5 percent in the U.S. by 2012. Kyoto had mandatory goals for reduction of greenhouse gasses that applied to 30 of the most developed nations. Mr. Bush’s plan set voluntary goals and gave businesses the right to decide whether or not they would participate in the program.

Two and one half months before the election, a report was delivered to Congress by Dr. James R. Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and the director of government climate research. It concluded that emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are the culprits in global warming that has taken place over the last 30 years. Mr. Bush didn,t call that report any names. That may be because Dr. Mahoney said it reflected “the best possible scientific information” on climate change. It may be because it was signed by Mr. Bush’s secretaries of energy and commerce and his science adviser. (Of those three, it should be noted, only the scientific adviser has not announced plans to leave the administration. Mr. Bush didn,t have to call them names-he could just let them know their resignations would be accepted.)

On November 16, just two weeks after the election, a strange thing happened to John McCain. Having spent the fall campaigning for the enemy of the environment Mr. McCain treasures, he suddenly found his voice again. On November 16, 2004, he convened a Senate hearing on the effect humans have on the climate and how to address those effects. He came out publicly with a statement that made one wonder how he could ever have supported George Bush. He said that the White House position on climate change was “terribly disappointing.” He said that there was no excuse for the White House’s inaction given the available scientific evidence.

If he cares about the environment as much as he says and his convening of a senate hearing suggests, one has to wonder why he was on the campaign trail with Mr. Bush. Perhaps he forgot about Mr. Bush’s environmental record and only recalled how bad it was after the election. Or perhaps he remembered but hoped he’d get a good job in a second Bush administration. Either explanation would be believable and each suggests that one of the first qualities politicians often abandon is principle. In Senator McCain’s case that’s too bad-not only for us but for the environment.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

 

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