McCain Portrays Himself as Environmental Champion, but Record Undercuts Credibility

| Mon May 12, 2008 10:56 AM EDT

McCain is touting his passion for the environment this week. He has an ad up that portrays his approach to fighting climate change as "a better way" — that is, a moderate third option that doesn't embrace the supposed taxation and regulations of the left, nor the dangerous denialism of the right. He's following that with a speech on climate change today in Oregon. "The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington," he plans to say. "Good stewardship, prudence, and simple common sense demand that we act to meet the challenge, and act quickly."

In truth, John McCain is a phony when it comes to the environment. He managed to miss every vote important to environmentalists in 2007, including some where he could have been the deciding vote on important issues. His lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters is just 24 percent; Clinton and Obama's are 87 and 86 by comparison.

We're written a lot about this at Mother Jones. Now even the mainstream media is catching on. Here's the Washington Post today:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

...an examination of McCain's voting record shows an inconsistent approach to the environment: He champions some "green" causes while casting sometimes contradictory votes on others.

The senator from Arizona has been resolute in his quest to impose a federal limit on greenhouse gas emissions, even when it means challenging his own party. But he has also cast votes against tightening fuel-efficiency standards and resisted requiring public utilities to offer a specific amount of electricity from renewable sources. He has worked to protect public lands in his home state, winning a 2001 award from the National Parks Conservation Association for helping give the National Park Service some say over air tours around the Grand Canyon, work that prompts former interior secretary and Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt to call him "a great friend of the canyon." But he has also pushed to set aside Endangered Species Act protections when they conflict with other priorities, such as the construction of a University of Arizona observatory on Mount Graham....

McCain scores significantly lower than his Democratic rivals for the presidency, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), in interest groups' studies of his environmental voting record. McCain's lifetime League of Conservation Voters score is 24 percent, compared with 86 for Obama and 86 for Clinton; Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund's conservation report card gave him 38 percent in the 108th Congress and 40 in the 109th. (McCain has missed every major environmental vote this Congress, giving him a zero rating.)...

For the most part, McCain follows a fairly instinctive approach to deciding environmental questions. In recent interviews he has said he thinks the government should list polar bears as endangered because shrinking sea ice threatens their survival, that sharks deserve protection because they're a crucial part of the marine food web, and that the nation needs to act on climate change because it risks an environmental catastrophe if it doesn't.

The senator does not boast an extensive staff of experts on these issues, however, and doesn't delve into the scientific and policy details the way former vice president Al Gore or some of his Senate colleagues do. In one conversation on his "Straight Talk Express" campaign bus, he voiced his frustration with activists who oppose nuclear power plants.

"We start building nuclear power plants, we'll have cheaper energy. Duh," he said.

The Post article also notes that McCain refused to come to the aid of environmental groups when they needed him to block a bill that would initiate drilling in ANWR. They turned instead to now-defeated Republicans Lincoln Chafee (R.I.) and Mike DeWine (Ohio).