John McCain's hot air

He may claim to be green, but McCain's environmental record is every bit as dirty as that of Sen. James "global warming is a hoax" Inhofe.

Published September 20, 2008 10:45AM (EDT)

Few politicians in history have more successfully sold a phony image about caring for the environment than Sen. John McCain. His deceptions and distortions and lies would fill a book.

Understandably, an overwhelming majority of the public strongly believes we need a major push toward alternative energy. So as a presidential candidate, McCain has repeatedly claimed to be a long-standing supporter of clean energy.

"We must shift our entire energy economy toward new and cleaner power sources such as wind, solar, biofuels. It will include a variety of new automotive and fuel technologies," he claims in a recent ad. When it comes to breaking with the energy policies of the current and past administrations, and achieving energy security for America, he says, "I know how to do that, and I will do it."

If McCain knows how to do it, it is a better-kept secret than the location of Osama bin Laden. McCain has a two-decade history in Washington of consistently opposing all efforts to shift our economy to clean energy.

The facts are clear. All you have to do is look at his voting record. It reveals that McCain has long been one of the strongest opponents of clean energy in Congress, with a record matching that of James Inhofe, the most hardcore global-warming denier in the Senate, who comes from the heart of the oil patch in Oklahoma.

Recently the Associated Press noted that "McCain has not shown up for eight Senate votes last year and this year to extend [renewable energy] tax credits, which expire at the end of this year. The last such vote was July 30." Yet at an Aspen Institute meeting in August, when McCain was asked about those missed votes, he simply lied to the audience.

"I have a long record of that support of alternate energy," McCain said. "I come from a state where we have sunshine 360 days a year ... I've always been for all of those and I have not missed any crucial vote."

In fact, on Dec. 13, 2007, the Senate was considering a bill to spend $13 billion on renewable power over five years. The cloture vote to allow the amendment to be brought to the Senate floor required 60 votes; it received 59 for, 40 against, and one senator absent. Yes, you guessed it: No McCain. A spokesman later said he would have voted to block the bill.

Again, in February, the Senate tried to include in a stimulus package an extension of the renewable tax credit, plus nearly $3 billion more for alternate energy. The cloture vote again failed 59-40-1. And again, McCain's absence didn't kill an unpopular alternative energy bill -- it stopped a popular bill from even coming to a vote.

Yet McCain continues to insist: "I have not missed any crucial vote." He would seem to be either a practiced liar who can fake sincerity, a pathological liar who believes his lies, or a man with simply no memory of key events several months earlier.

As for McCain's "long record of that support of alternate energy," consider the votes on renewable energy funding and a federal "renewable portfolio standard" (RPS) that he did show up for this decade:

  • Tax credits for clean energy R&D (2001)
  • Require a 20 percent RPS where utilities buy 20 percent clean energy ('02)
  • Reduce 20 percent RPS requirement ('02)
  • Waive 20 percent RPS if utilities balk ('02)
  • Increase clean energy R&D funding ('05)
  • Clean energy incentives ('05)
  • An RPS to require utilities [to] buy some clean energy ('05)
  • Tax oil companies windfall profits to fund clean energy ('05)

    In every case, McCain voted against renewables, as did Sen. "Global warming is 'the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people'" Inhofe. On the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the biggest congressional effort to push alternative energy in more than a decade, McCain voted against it along with just 11 other senators. Even Inhofe voted for it.

    Why does McCain consistently vote against renewable energy, even though he comes from a state that has enough solar energy to power the entire country, a state rich in renewable-power entrepreneurs? Other than the fact that conservatives have a long track record of opposing renewable energy, McCain is technologically out of touch.

    When few in the media were paying attention to his campaign last December, McCain said that "the truly clean technologies don't work." He claimed that "most every expert that I know says that if you maximize [renewables] in every possible way," the contribution they would make is "very small."

    This quote reveals what a narrow circle of experts McCain relies on. Just what we need, another president in a bubble. And one that is unable to hear the truth, even when it is presented to him by another hardcore conservative. After T. Boone Pickens explained to McCain in person this summer that we could get 20 percent of our electricity from wind in one decade, McCain said he disagreed with Pickens, and that renewable energy can't meet much of the demand required over the next 20 years. Even the Bush administration's own Energy Department said we could get most of our electricity growth over the next two decades from wind power alone.

    OK, McCain thinks renewables "don't work." What about fuel-efficient vehicles? McCain responded to a Science Debate 2008 question on global warming: "I have long supported CAFE standards -- the mileage requirements that automobile manufacturers' cars must meet."

    That statement is somewhere between a lie and self-deception. The standards were in place before he got to the Senate, so his "support" was meaningless. In his entire 24 years in Congress, McCain had precisely one opportunity to vote for a serious bipartisan compromise on a major increase in CAFE standards. That was the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which required a 40 percent increase in fuel economy standards by 2020. This was the first time fuel economy standards were substantially changed since the 1970s. McCain didn't bother to show up. Back in 2003, a measure was introduced to improve the government system for testing fuel economy, which was notoriously unreliable and well known to overstate the actual fuel economy of cars. McCain and Inhofe voted against it.

    What about energy efficiency and conservation? In 2002, the Senate voted to drop a measure encouraging the efficient generation of electricity. McCain and Inhofe were among those who voted to drop it. Another 2002 vote on weakening appliance-efficiency requirements passed by a mere 52-47. McCain and Inhofe both voted to weaken the requirements. This summer, McCain had the audacity to mock Barack Obama for talking about energy efficiency measures, like inflating one's tires, even though those measures would save more than 10 times as much oil as ending the moratorium on coastal drilling would.

    What about McCain's support for the environment in general? Back in 1996, McCain wrote a New York Times Op-Ed titled "Nature Is Not a Liberal Plot" that laid out his vision of a green(washed) Republican Party. It touted his work with Morris Udall, the former Democratic congressman from Arizona, to safeguard Arizona wild lands, including the Grand Canyon. But the Op-Ed also explained the importance of maintaining and improving the Clean Air Act, Superfund, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. McCain wrote, "Our nation's continued prosperity hinges on our ability to solve environmental problems and sustain the natural resources on which we all depend."

    And yet in 1994, McCain had voted to let coal states bypass the Clean Water Act. In 1996, he voted against increased EPA funding to clean up Superfund toxic-waste sites, where he was joined by Inhofe but opposed by most of his fellow Republicans. Again, in 1996, he voted with Inhofe to gut nuclear waste disposal laws. In 2003, he voted with Inhofe against requiring polluters to pay for cleanup of Superfund waste sites.

    When you add in McCain's legislative efforts to cut funding for the most energy-efficient form of national travel -- passenger rail -- you find that McCain has voted against clean energy and the environment -- or said he would have done so -- more than 50 times since the early 1990s. And McCain has voted with the Oklahoma oilman and global-warming denier a remarkable 42 out of 44 times.

    But what about McCain's support for action on global warming? True, he and Sen. Joe Lieberman introduced a global warming bill several years ago that would have put in place a mandatory cap on emissions and then set up a trading system to establish a price for carbon. But even those bills contained not a single substantive policy to promote energy efficiency and conservation. And since beginning his recent run for office, McCain has moved farther away from a serious position on the issue.

    He now says his carbon emissions cap is not "mandatory." He never even mentioned global warming or climate change once in his big convention speech, laying out his top priorities for the nation, and he chose a running mate who questions whether global warming is the result of human action. How committed to the environment does that sound?

    The fact that McCain endorsed a gas tax holiday, a rollback of the small federal gas tax this summer, when gasoline prices exceeded $4, suggests that if energy prices rise in the future, as they inevitably will, he will roll back any significant carbon price too. And that would gut the whole effort to reduce emissions.

    At this point, it is impossible to believe anything that John McCain says. The only thing dirtier than his lies is his environmental record.

  • By Joseph Romm

    Joseph Romm is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he oversees He is the author of "Hell and High Water: Global Warming -- The Solution and the Politics." Romm served as acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 1997. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

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    2008 Elections Environment John Mccain R-ariz.