NEW YORK, 2 AUGUST 2008
Dear EarthTalk: What are the major environmental issues that
our next president, be it Obama or McCain, will have to
Melinda Barnes, via e-mail
Global warming is unquestionably the most pressing
environmental issue facing whoever ends up in the White House
in January 2009. Not only does climate change impact - and in
most cases exacerbate - other environmental problems, it has
even wider implications for the economy and society at large.
Luckily for all of us, both Barack Obama and John McCain are
committed to tackling climate change, although their proposed
approaches differ in significant ways.
The non-profit League of Conservation Voters (LCV), America's
leading voice for environmental advocacy within electoral
politics, would prefer to see Obama elected president given his
environmental track record and plans for the future. While both
candidates favor instituting a mandatory "cap-and-trade"
program (whereby the federal government allows polluters to
trade for the right to emit a reduced overall amount of
greenhouse gases), Obama is for more strident cuts. He would
like to see the U.S. reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by
some 80 percent by 2050, while McCain supports only cutting
back by 65 percent. Both candidates have authored legislation
in the Senate designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,
although no such bills have come close to passing.
Even though McCain is by far the most forward-thinking of the
original Republican presidential contenders on global warming
and the need to take action, LCV still gives him poor marks,
only a 24 rating (out of 100) lifetime and zero for 2007. LCV
says that McCain missed all 15 critical environmental votes
last year and that he "repeatedly clings to outdated policies
and flip-flops on core environmental issues." By comparison,
Obama earned a score of 100 in 2007 and has a lifetime LCV
rating of 87.
One area where environmentalists take issue with McCain is his
support for expanding the role of nuclear power in cutting
fossil fuel use. Obama would rather bolster alternative
energy sources like wind and solar power that do not have
the nasty side effect of radioactive waste in need of storage
and disposal. (McCain also supports the development of new
renewables, but not to the extent that Obama is willing to
Some of the other hot button environmental issues sure to
occupy the next president's time include: how to best protect
the nation's water
resources and wetlands; whether to allow more drilling for
oil and natural gas both offshore and within Alaska's Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge; whether to reinstate the Roadless
Area Conservation Rule, a Clinton-era law (subsequently
overturned by the Bush administration) calling for protection
of some 58 million acres of public land from logging; how to
meet U.S. commitments on existing environmental laws in
international trade agreements; and whether to bring back the
so-called "polluter pays" part of the government's "Superfund"
toxic waste clean-up program.
While Obama is clearly the greener candidate on most of these
issues, the fact that McCain even takes them seriously - and is
committed to any greenhouse gas reductions whatsoever - is a
plus for environmental advocates exasperated by eight years of
green naysaying by the Bush administration.
CONTACTS: Obama '08, www.barackobama.com; McCain
for President, www.johnmccain.com; League of
Conservation Voters, www.lcv.org.
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