Over the past few years, Sen. John McCain has earned maverick stripes by taking a stance on climate change that few of his Republican colleagues share. His bucking of party orthodoxy has had its benefits on the presidential campaign trail. This Monday, for instance, the senator is slated to appear before a wind power plant to tout the merits of such environmentally friendly technologies.
"Wind power is one of many alternative energy sources that are changing our economy for the better," McCain will say, according to prepared remarks. "And one day they will change our economy forever."
But back in 2005, when McCain had the chance to vote for a bill that would have included the largest expansion of financial incentives to produce clean wind energy, he didn't. And the clean energy firm he will address today -- Vestas Wind Technology, a Portland, Oregon business planning to build the world's largest turbine factory -- is part of a trade association that pushed aggressively for the legislation.
The 2005 Energy Bill has been derided as a "piñata of perks" for business interests. Indeed, even the supporters of the measure - Sen. Barack Obama being one of them - acknowledged that it did little to curb oil prices and was crafted with the help of lobbyists. McCain, who was one of 24 Senators to vote against the legislation, called it an "irresponsible" handout "to big business and oil companies."
But for all the bill's faults -- The Oregonian Editorial board said it ditched "the most meaningful conservation measures and embrac[ed] old-fashioned subsidies" -- it did offer historic subsidies for alternative energy sources and, specifically, extended the wind energy production tax credit. That extension, officials say, has proven monumental in advancing wind as a viable energy alternative. According to industry numbers, wind power grew 45 percent in 2007, making it accountable for 30 percent of all new electricity-generating capacities.
All of which means that on Monday, McCain will be in the political awkward situation of appearing before a company that directly benefited from the legislation he once lambasted.
"Wind energy has made tremendous strides in becoming a mainstream option for meeting growing electricity demands globally," Roby Roberts, Vice President of Government Relations of Vestas, said just weeks ago. "In March we opened our first factory in the U.S., creating over 600 local jobs, and we recently announced plans to establish a tower factory and an R&D facility in the U.S."
But it wasn't just 2005 Energy Bill that put McCain at odds with the wind power industry. During the construction of that bill, McCain voted for an amendment that barred federal subsidies for all wind power projects that fell within 20 miles of "high scenic areas." That amendment failed 32 to 63. Six months later, McCain voted for a Republican budget package that all but eliminated renewable energy programs for farmers, cutting funds from $23 million to $3 million, despite the fact that program had been responsible for more than $66 million in grants for 400 clean energy projects since 2003. A few months after that, moreover, McCain skipped a vote on green tax credits in the economic stimulus package - a program that would have benefited companies, business, and individuals who employed wind and other renewable energy sources.
So how will McCain handle his appearance before and industry with which he's had legislative differences? Not surprisingly, these disagreements are not expected to surface in the text of his remarks. McCain's speech is slated to expand on his advocacy for a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions. He will offer criticism of industry interests, arguing that "special favors, subsidies, and tax breaks" should not predominate the political process. "We need to draw on the best ideas of both parties, and on all the resources a free market can provide," McCain will say.
But he also will argue in favor of some of the government investments in wind power that he himself has opposed.
"We will support projects to advance technologies that capture and store carbon emissions. We will assist in transmitting wind- and solar-generated power from states that have them to states that need them," the senator's remarks read, adding later: "Government must do more by opening new paths of invention and ingenuity. And we must do this in a way that gives American businesses new incentives and new rewards to seek, instead of just giving them new taxes to pay and new orders to follow."
How the follow up questions will go could be a bit more telling.