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The San Francisco Chronicle

GOP Environmental Record A Challenge For McCain

Jane Kay

GOP Sen. John McCain struggles to distance himself from President Bush
on economic policy and the national debt, he also faces the tough task
of separating himself from a Republican administration with the worst
environmental record in recent years.

has passed the most sweeping environmental measures in the nation, and
voters in the state are likely to take into account the criticism
McCain is getting from environmentalists for backing a Bush philosophy
of ultra-light regulation under laws to protect endangered species,
forests and clean air and water, experts say.

More than two-thirds of California voters questioned in a July poll
said they disapproved of the way Bush was handling environmental issues
in the United States. And 52 percent of the state's voters said they
trusted Democratic Sen. Barack Obama to handle global warming and other
environmental matters; 28 percent said they trusted McCain on the issue.

"I certainly think that people who are unhappy with Bush's handling
of the environment are likely to be enthusiastic Obama supporters,"
said Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who has sampled
public opinion on environmental questions.

At the ballot box, worries over the economy won't eliminate concerns for the environment, research found.

"People who are deeply concerned about the environment ... are
worried now about the economy distracting the country from that
important issue," said Krosnick.

Climate change grabbed the attention of the country last year, he said, and now more than ever, people are acting.

Obama has a strong record of supporting environmental measures in
the Illinois statehouse and the U.S. Senate, according to watchdogs of
green voting. He has voted for a wide range of public health measures
supporting clean air and clean water and eliminating lead and asbestos
in urban settings. He favors increased support for national parks and
wants environmental protections in trade agreements.

McCain's record

McCain was an early advocate of adopting measures to address global
warming and says he favors laws to protect parks, oceans and air and
water. His lifetime record in Congress shows that he voted three out of
four times against legislation described as pro-environment by
conservation organizations.

The groups are voicing concern that McCain has praised U.S. Supreme
Court Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts as model jurists. The two
have consistently ruled in favor of limiting regulation of business,
including cases under environmental law.

In years past, McCain was the darling of the environmentalists for
his concern over global warming. McCain, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman,
independent-Conn., held congressional hearings, brought top scientists
to testify and was author of the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, which
would have required the EPA to limit the greenhouse gas emissions from
generation of electricity, transportation, industry and commerce. The
bill failed in the Senate. But when McCain started seeking his party's
presidential nomination, he backed off his advocacy position. In his
convention speech, he didn't mention global warming at all, and in the
last year he missed three votes in Congress that would have reduced
fossil fuel emissions.

"While Sen. McCain has acknowledged that global warming is real and
something needs to be done, he has repeatedly opposed clean energy
solutions that would help reduce global warming," said Tiernan
Setterfeld, legislative director of the watchdog group, League of
Conservation Voters.

Terry Tamminen, former secretary of the California Environmental
Protection Agency for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said the presidential
race has improved, in that now there are two candidates who understand
the issue and believe the science on global warming.

"I think Obama would make climate change a first-100-days issue, and
that might lead to the United States productively participating in a
world agreement within the next year," said Tamminen, policy adviser
for New American Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.

Neither candidate has ruled out oil and gas drilling off California.

"In looking at their statements during the campaign, you see McCain
headlining a convention where the indelible slogan was 'Drill, baby,
drill' and Obama setting forth more comprehensive goals for renewables
and energy efficiency first and only then considering the need for
nuclear, clean coal or more domestic drilling," Tamminen said.

Differing positions

The philosophical differences between the two candidates are
apparent in the men and women they said they would appoint to the
Supreme Court. Justices have played key roles in deciding the balance
between protecting the environment and regulating businesses.

Obama has said he would appoint jurists who would apply the
Constitution and laws to protect civil rights, individual liberties and
the concept of equal justice for all. According to his campaign
representative, "an Obama Environmental Protection Agency will
faithfully adhere to Congress' intent in enacting legislation like the
Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act."

McCain's campaign did not respond to The Chronicle's questions on
the environment, but he has called himself a federalist, which means
support for conservatism in the courts, and he has praised Alito and
Roberts. The two justices have generally opposed the regulation of
business, said Glenn Sugameli, senior judicial counsel at Earthjustice.

In 2006, Roberts and Alito voted with Antonin Scalia and Clarence
Thomas in a minority decision that the Clean Water Act didn't protect
millions of acres of streams and wetlands against filling and
pollution. The 5-4 vote resulted in a compromise where much of the
nation's wetlands remained protected.

In Massachusetts vs. the EPA, Alito and Roberts tried to create an
exception in the Clean Air Act that would exclude the regulation of
vehicles. Roberts said the state didn't have standing to sue. A 5-4
vote along the same lines as the wetlands case decided that the state
had standing to sue, that carbon dioxide was a pollutant and the EPA
could regulate it. The decision ultimately supports California's laws
to clamp down on greenhouse gases.

As an Arizonan, McCain has prided himself with moving wilderness
bills in Congress and protecting national parks. In statements, he says
he wants to protect them for future generations.

Daniel Patterson, an ecologist and Southwest director of Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said that in his view the
senator has not been responsive to conservation concerns.

"McCain has been in many ways quietly unsupportive of conservation,
even in his own state," said Patterson. "He's failed to try to do
anything to protect the Grand Canyon from renewed uranium mining
despite requests from members of Arizona's House delegation. If he
won't step up to protect the Grand Canyon in his own state, how can we
expect anything on the environment but the same type of policies we've
seen for the last eight years from Bush and (Vice President Dick)

How the candidates stand on environmental issues

Issue McCain Obama
Strong Endangered Species Act Wants some changes in the act but won't give specific details. Favors the current law.
Right of states to pass tougher laws than feds Supports
rights of states to adopt more rigorous standards but doesn't say if he
supports California's tougher laws to curb toxic substances and
greenhouse gases.
Prefers aggressively pursuing strong
national standards for all 50 states, pledges to reverse Bush
administration's policy of blocking California's law to cut greenhouse
gases from vehicles.
Moratorium on offshore oil drilling Favors
oil and gas drilling now, says it will reduce gasoline prices at pump
and end dependence on foreign oil. Supports full range of nuclear,
Supports forcing petroleum companies to drill on 68
million acres of already leased tracts, skeptical new drilling would
reduce gas prices or reduce foreign oil dependence. Favors
comprehensive energy proposal on renewables and energy efficiency first
and then will consider need for nuclear, clean coal or more domestic
Full funding for national parks and roadless areas Wants money for parks, says decisions over road building and logging in wilderness belong in forest plans. Supports funding for parks and the rule that prohibits road-building and logging in 58.5 million acres of national wilderness.
Environmental safeguards in trade agreements Favors fast track,which can bypass protections. Agrees with need for environmental and labor protections.
International family-planning support by U.S. Hasn't given his position. Agrees with need for funding.
Elimination of toxic substances in poor communities Pledges to work with environmental groups, industry and government to address pollution hotspots. Calls for end to childhood lead- poisoning in homes, day care centers and promises to clean up degradation.
Tough Clean Air Act Assures that act would be vigorously enforced, wants standards set on basis of economics and science. Wants public health standards set by scientists, not lobbyists. Supports EPA, which would enforce the law.
Fighting global warming Backed off of hefty mandatory cuts on greenhouse gases, advocates controls driven by the market. Supports mandatory curbs on greenhouse gases with goal of 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Source: Chronicle research



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