Let the Record Speak: McCain and Obama on Climate Change

Last year a group of six scientists and journalists began compiling a list of the most important science-related questions the presidential candidates should answer. The result was Science Debate 2008, a project that eventually expanded to include input from 38,000 scientists and citizens, who sent in 3,400 questions. Working with various scientific organizations, the six founders narrowed the submissions down to 14 questions about health, research, the environment and science.
Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama answered the questions, and their answers can be read here. However, it’s easy for a politician to make promises, so _Popular Science
investigated both senator’s voting records to see if their history matched up with their promises for the future. Each day for the next two weeks we’ll present an analysis of the candidate’s voting records as compared with their answers to the Science Debate 2008 questions. You can follow the entire series at popsci.com/election, where you can also sign up for an RSS feed._

Question Two: Climate Change

In true political fashion, the candidates have come miles to near-agreement, and now haggle over the remaining inches. Both candidates agree that global warming poses a serious threat and needs to be tackled immediately with carbon emission reduction. Both candidates want to institute a cap and trade system to make carbon reduction market friendly. But do they have the record to back it up?

Most recently, Senator McCain and Senator Obama punted on the final version of HR 6, the 2007 Energy Bill. They, along with Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Hillary Clinton (gee, what do all those people have in common?) joined Chuck Hagel as the only members of the Senate to abstain from voting on the motion to concur the Senate bill with the House bill so it could be sent to the President and made a law.

The bill contained $3.8 billion in tax credits for advanced coal technology, the export of which Obama featured prominently in his Science Debates 2008 answer. The bill also contained an order to increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. In Senator McCain’s Science Debate answer, he specifically says, “I will strengthen the penalties for violating CAFE standards, and make certain they are effectively enforced.” Senator Obama did vote for amendments to the bill that added money for the research of alternative fuels, but those amendments mainly supported ethanol, which contributes to global warming. So while neither candidate voted against the final bill, neither of them supported it either.

Both candidates’ Science Debate answers also included mentions of cap and trade for carbon emissions reduction and mention of returning atmospheric carbon content to 1990 levels by 2050. It is not a coincidence that the exact same language was used in 2003 bill S 139, better known as the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act. This amendment proposed a market for carbon trading, emissions limits and research grants for alternative fuels. The bill was so successful that it was defeated not once, but five times.

Regardless of its obvious unpopularity, the bill does establish a clear link between McCain’s legislative history and the programs he proposed in his Science Debate answer. It also supports Obama’s answer in regards to cap and trade, as Senator Obama managed to make his way onto the bill as a co-sponsor, along with Senator McCain, in the bill’s third incarnation.

However, the candidates did disagree over HR 2419, the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for 2006. That $32.93 billion appropriation funded energy and water development and “other purposes” (read: pork). It also, though, set aside $3.7 billion for scientific activities and $257 million for clean coal development. Obama voted for the bill, once again proving his love of clean coal, while McCain voted against the bill, showing his distain for omnibus bills that build bridges to nowhere.

So again, the candidates’ legislative history seems to back up their Science Debate 2008 answers. Tomorrow, we look at the broader question of energy, which seems to sit at the intersection of all the other Science Debate questions, excluding stem cells, (unless, that is, someone has figured out a way to squeeze fuel from them).