THE BLOG

The Week McCain's Environmental Credentials Went Extinct

10/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's hard to pinpoint the precise moment when (what was left of) McCain's environmental bona fides hit the skids, but, if I had to pick, I would say it was right around the time his running mate, Sarah Palin, officially accepted the vice-presidential nomination. (Or was it when McCain boasted that, under his tenure, "We will drill new wells offshore, and we'll drill them now" ?) Some had hoped that McCain, when confronted by, shall we say, some of the less sterling aspects of Palin's record, would drop the Alaskan governor in favor of a "safer" -- though no less disappointing -- choice.

That illusory hope proved to be ill-founded, of course. It is true that, by selecting Palin to be his VP, McCain shrewdly picked the right-wingers' preferred ideological bosom buddy -- injecting some much-needed life into his lackluster campaign and all but guaranteeing his hold on the evangelical base. In doing so, however, he clearly demonstrated that his devotion to environmental causes is only skin deep: a set of positions he is only too happy to jettison if it improves his chances of securing the presidency. (Shocker, I know.) One only need take a quick glance at Sarah Palin's record to conclude that she fits in squarely with the Bush mold.

Not that you probably need much more convincing if you're still reading this column, but, just for the sake of reinforcement, take a look at this stinging op-ed, written by Rick Steiner, a professor at the University of Alaska:

A particularly worrisome aspect of the Palin candidacy is her abysmal record on the environment during her two years as Alaska governor, and how that would translate into national environmental policy if she became vice president (. . .) On the environment, Sarah Palin is essentially George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and perhaps James Watt rolled into one, but with a more pleasant demeanor. At a time when the nation and world urgently need strong environmental leadership from the United States, it is important to look beyond charisma and carefully consider the environmental implications of our vote in November.

Many of the questions he raises about Palin's environmental record, whether they concern her belief that climate change is not man-made or her blanket support for more oil and gas drilling, have already been well-established elsewhere. However, he also brings up a few less noted aspects of her record, including her failure to establish a state climate change office and response fund (despite her supposed belief that climate change is "real" -- just not anthropogenic) and her fierce opposition to a "clean water initiative" that would have imposed more regulations on mining interests (which went on to be approved by Alaska's electorate).

What about all this talk of her willingness to stick it to Big Oil? As it turns out, most of it is either gross exaggeration or, worse, simply not true, as Andrew Helcro explains. Much as the McCain campaign would like the American public to believe that Palin is a crusading reformer, eager to break the oil and gas companies' stranglehold on Alaska's resources, Helcro says that this is not the case:

These companies hold hydrocarbon leases that were issued decades ago. These leases granted them legal rights to develop the oil and gas resources on state leased land and no political speech changed that legal reality.

The bottom line is the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline won't be built until the state sits down and negotiates a fiscal framework that defines the resource extraction terms for natural gas. So far this administration has refused to hold any discussions with the industry and has instead decided to spend $500 million of tax payer money propping up a straw man with hopes they'll force the oil companies to cave.

Like many, I have been critical of this process. It's been further aggravated by the administration's refusal to engage in good faith negotiations, while relying on public support for supposedly standing up to big oil. The reality is they've doing little more than ignore both fiscal and legal realities while riskig delays of the project at a time when inflation is driving up the cost of construction.

While all of this reflects poorly on Palin, the person on whom it reflects worse, of course, is John McCain. Not only does this reveal rash impetuousness -- McCain is apparently fully comfortable with the notion of entrusting his responsibilities to one of the least experienced candidates in recent memory -- but this also pokes a glaring hole in his argument that he is a "maverick" when it comes to climate change and the environment. Sure, he likes to talk a good game (even though said game is sorely lacking in many respects) about his support for a cap-and-trade scheme, stringent emission targets and renewable energy, but what about the woman standing beside him -- who is a heartbeat away from the presidency? As grim as this may sound, there is a not insignificant chance that McCain would either fall gravely ill or (God forbid) pass away during his presidency. That would leave Palin, no fan of McCain's climate agenda, to resume his office.

McCain has already strongly hinted, if not outright said, that he would put Palin in charge of oil and energy policy if he were to become president. This from the man who once proudly opposed drilling in ANWR and who, when asked how Alaska should go about preparing for the effects of climate change, seemed to imply that a "drill, baby, drill" strategy might not be the best strategy:

McCain, a constant critic of congressional spending, said he thinks American taxpayers will be generous to such villagers, as they are to hurricane victims in Florida.

But, he said, people asking for money to fix a problem should be willing to address the root cause.

"So far, some of my colleagues are not eager to do so," he said.

You tell 'em Senator! Oh, wait...