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McCain Backs Limits on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at Vestas Training Facility May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore. McCain delivered a speech outlining his plan to fight global warming.
Craig Mitchelldyer / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at Vestas Training Facility May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore. McCain delivered a speech outlining his plan to fight global warming.
With miniature wind turbines behind him, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks about climate change on May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore.
Craig Mitchelldyer / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
With miniature wind turbines behind him, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks about climate change on May 12, 2008, in Portland, Ore.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain is touting his plan to combat global warming as he stumps for votes this week in the Pacific Northwest.

McCain travels to Washington state Tuesday for an environmental forum outside Seattle. On Monday, he was in Portland, Ore., where he visited the offices of a windmill company.

McCain hopes his conservative approach to global warming will appeal to moderate Democrats as well as Republicans. It relies on the same market forces that he says helped create the problem.

"For all of the last century, the profit motive basically led in one direction — toward machines, methods and industries that used oil and gas," McCain said. "Enormous good came from that industrial growth, and we are all the beneficiaries of the national prosperity it built. But there were costs we weren't counting."

Those costs, in the form of greenhouse gases, can no longer be ignored, McCain said. He hopes to create a profit motive that works in the opposite direction — encouraging polluters to cut their carbon emissions. As president, McCain would cap overall production of greenhouse gases. Companies that produce more pollution would then have to buy carbon credits from those who find a cleaner way of doing business.

"Instantly, automakers, coal companies, power plants and every other enterprise in America would have an incentive to reduce carbon emissions, because when they go under those limits, they can sell the balance of permitted emissions for cash," McCain said.

The Arizona senator delivered his speech at the U.S. headquarters of Vestas, a Danish wind-energy company. McCain hopes his environmental message will resonate in Oregon, which is becoming a hub for alternative energy firms. Democrat John Kerry won handily in Oregon in 2004, but four years earlier, George Bush came within 7,000 votes of carrying the state.

Criticism from Conservationists

The League of Conservation Voters has been tracking candidates in an effort to raise the profile of climate change as a campaign issue. While McCain has been more outspoken than the other Republicans, the nonprofit group doesn't think he goes far enough.

"We give him credit for understanding the problem is real and for making it a priority. But his particular plan, both on his global warming emissions bill as well as some of the specific energy measures, they're outdated and they fall far short of what we need to do," said Gene Karpinsky, president of the group.

By the year 2050, for example, McCain wants to reduce greenhouse gases by 60 percent, compared with 1990 levels. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have called for reductions of 80 percent.

Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have also criticized McCain for his outspoken support of nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuel. He often talks on the campaign trail about the safe track record of nuclear-powered Navy vessels and how France relies on nuclear plants for more than half of its electricity.

McCain acknowledged Monday that nuclear power has "drawbacks," including the challenge of transporting and storing nuclear waste. A cap-and-trade system would make nuclear plants more cost-competitive, he said, since they don't produce greenhouse gases and wouldn't have to buy carbon credits.

"It doesn't take a leap in logic to conclude that if we want to arrest global warming, then nuclear energy is a powerful ally in that cause," McCain said.

'Ready to Help'

McCain said any meaningful international effort to address climate change would have to include China and India. But even if those countries don't sign on, the U.S. has a responsibility to act, he said.

A prepared text of McCain's speech supplied to reporters suggested that western countries might use trade sanctions to push China and India into cutting their carbon output. But in delivering the speech, McCain substituted softer language, saying diplomacy and technical support should be enough to move the two countries.

"Pressing on blindly with uncontrolled carbon emissions is in no one's interest, especially China's. And the rest of the world stands ready to help," he said.

McCain hopes that message helps him with environmentally minded voters, especially in battleground states like Oregon and Washington.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Horsley
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.