From Independent Maverick to Incoherent Conservative

Bill Scher

Sen. John McCain reiterated his support for a “cap-and-trade” approach to global warming today. Treating global warming as real is McCain’s best hope of convincing Americans he offers not more failed conservatism, but an independent maverick approach to government.

Being a maverick suggests a coherent set of principles that overrides partisanship in service of the public good.

But McCain’s new address and related ad, like the rest of his environmental record, is simply incoherent.

He tried to establish a anti-government/private market environmentalism, as previously urged by Newt Gingrich, when he said:

…we must do this in a way that gives American businesses new incentives and new rewards to seek, instead of just giving them new taxes to pay and new orders to follow. The most direct way to achieve this is through a system that sets clear limits on all greenhouse gases…

But setting “clear limits” is giving “new orders” to business. It’s saying, you can’t pollute this much anymore.

That of course, would be a good thing for the environment, if there were effective incentives. and strong enforcement. But McCain embraces the conservative argument that making companies pay for polluting public sky amounts to “new taxes,” thereby continuing the current distorted incentive — and depriving us of revenue that would be invested in creating renewable energy and lowering consumer prices.

McCain further criticized public investment in renewable energy when he said:

When we debate energy bills in Washington, it should be more than a competition among industries for special favors, subsidies, and tax breaks. In the Congress, we need to send the special interests on their way — without their favors and subsidies.

That’s his defense for rejecting public investment in wind power, despite delivering his remarks in a wind turbine factory that is pressing Congress to provide public investment so it can thrive.

Yet in the same speech, McCain said “government can help” expand nuclear power. In fact, despite his claim that he opposes all subsidies, he has long supported nuclear subsidies.

If McCain is willing to invest your tax dollars in nuclear power to help fight global warming, why is he resisting investment in clean, renewable energy, like the wind power he used as a backdrop?

It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t amount to a clear policy vision. It’s simply incoherent.

But that is McCain’s environmental track record.

The League of Conservation Voters noted last week that his green rhetoric doesn’t jibe with his votes. (The dirty details are at McCain Source.)

Grist’s David Roberts notes that while McCain was campaigning on environmentalism, he was “AWOL” for critical votes in the Senate, twice allowing anti-environmental conservative filibusters to succeed by just one vote. (Including a vote that would have provided critical support to wind power.)

And the Washington Post reported how McCain dropped his support for protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge when faced with a very close Senate vote, for nonsensical reasons.

Does McCain offer something different than George Bush when it comes to the environment? Who really knows. He would have speak coherently on the subject for us to know. And his conservative voting record — or more recently, lack thereof — doesn’t spark much confidence.

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