The McCain campaign sent out an email late last night announcing that the candidate will be receiving a "major endorsement" today in California. Of course, most are guessing that the endorsement is from Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is supported by the fact that two are slated to take part in an environmental event together today.
Since they're getting together today to talk about the environment, and McCain seems to now be the clear frontrunner in the Republican race, let's take a moment to analyze the candidate's actual environmental record. He's given all kinds of kudos in the mainstream press for even appearing to care about environmental issues (which will surely only increase if/when he gets the Schwarzenegger endorsement), and his opponents have been attempting to paint him as being too liberal on the issue. Don't get me wrong, he has taken the Bush administration and the rest of the GOP establishment to task for subverting action on climate change, and he does have the better record and rhetoric on the subject than the rest of the Republican field.
But that isn't saying much. In reality, McCain is far from an environmental champion. The League of Conservation Voters gives him a lifetime score of just 26 percent. While he may have been a co-sponsor of the first Senate bill calling for mandatory reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions way back in 2003, he hasn't kept up to speed on what legislation like that should look like. The 2007 version of his Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act is weaker than most others that have been offered up, calling for a cap at 2004 levels by 2012 and gradual reductions to 30 percent of 2004 levels by 2050. Current science tells us we need 80 percent reductions by 2050 to avert catastrophic warming, putting McCain's plan way behind the times. He also voted against a renewable portfolio standard in 2005 that would have required the U.S. to draw 10 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and though he used to be a major critic of ethanol, he flip-flopped on the issue when running in Iowa. To his credit, he does still say he opposes government subsidies for ethanol.
Most importantly, while he says climate change is one of his top three issues, he offers only a paltry agenda on the subject. In speeches, he promises to wean the nation off "foreign oil" and lead the country to energy independence, but there doesn't appear to be any plan backing those promises.
So might McCain be better than the other Republicans on climate and environmental issues? Marginally. But a champion for environmental causes? Not likely.