John McCain’s Energy Plan and the Imperative for Stewardship

By MARTHA MARKS

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Martha gave this speech to the South Peninsula Area Republican Council in Los Altos, California, on September 25, 2008.

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I want to thank Duffy Price for inviting me to speak to you on behalf of Republicans for Environmental Protection, which we usually shorten to “REP.”

I first met Duffy about fifteen months ago, when she attended a reception for me at the home of a REP member in Atherton. She joined REP right after that, so now—by inviting me to speak to you tonight—she’s continuing the tradition of introducing REP to others. Several of Duffy’s friends in this area are also REP members, and there are clusters connected to other individuals. We’re building a good network of members in the Bay area.

Word of mouth is how REP is growing, so I will ask you all, right up front—if you like what I say this evening, or if you simply find it intriguing or provocative—please tell others about REP. You and your friends can learn more at our website, rep.org. I brought our Green Elephant newsletter and a few other publications, so of course I hope you’ll take those with you, read them, and share them with others, too. And, of course, if you’d like to help us restore our party’s great conservation ethic, I invite you to join REP and become part of our growing California chapter.

As the official roving ambassador for Republicans for Environmental Protection, I tend to operate in the “Have Invitation, Will Travel” school of advocacy.

Those of you who, like me, are of “a certain age” will immediately recognize that reference to the hugely popular 1950s and ‘60s television show called “Have Gun, Will Travel.” The hero, Paladin, is a Civil War veteran and soldier of fortune who mostly hangs out in San Francisco. He passes out cards with the slogan “Have Gun, Will Travel,” goes wherever business calls, and — with fancy sleuthing and even fancier gun-slinging — does what one person can do to solve the problems of his time.

So, here you have me: a twenty-first century female Paladin — “Have Invitation, Will Travel” — who mostly hangs out in New Mexico but, whenever REP business calls, roams the country advocating for a return to the Republican Party’s great conservation tradition and doing what one person can do to help solve the problems of our time.

Duffy suggested that in my talk tonight I venture into the wonky turf of John McCain’s energy policies

I gladly accepted, because one reason why REP likes Senator McCain and has twice endorsed him for president is his understanding of the nexus between energy and other important issues that he and we deeply care about: namely climate change, resource conservation, and environmental stewardship.

So that explains the title of my talk this evening. In addition to agreeing for the most part on energy policy, REP and McCain also agree on the imperative for stewardship.

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McCain has given several speeches on energy and climate change this year, addressing the interrelated aspects of each and proposing workable solutions.

In preparing for tonight, I went to two of those:

  1. the speech on climate that he gave on May 12 in Portland, Oregon, and
  2. the speech on energy that he gave on June 17 in Houston.

I have marked-up copies of those with me, in case you’d like to see them.

If you’d like to read them for yourselves, go to rep.org, locate this talk of mine, and follow the links to McCain’s original speeches. Both are thorough presentations and well worth reading. I can only hit the highlights tonight.

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In those two speeches, McCain spells out the economic, environmental, and national security costs associated with our current energy policies and his proposals for dealing with them.

As regards economic costs… McCain noted in Houston that in just a year, the price of oil had more than doubled. He said:

“People are hurting, small farmers, truckers, and taxi drivers unable to cover their costs, small business owners struggling to meet payroll, the cost of living rising and the value of paychecks falling.” These Americans, he said, “believe their government has a duty to finally assure the energy security of this country, and they are right.”

McCain pointed out that during the oil embargo of the early 1970s, we imported roughly one third of our oil. Now we import nearly two thirds. Back then we produced 9 million barrels of oil every day. Now we produce 5 million.

He said:

“Five million barrels sounds like a lot until we compare the number with the oil we use, which comes to 20 million barrels, or a quarter of all the oil used every day across the earth… A reasonable observer, presented only with the numbers of consumption and production, might draw the conclusion that America has accepted this fate because we have no choice in the matter, or because we have no resources of our own. But just the opposite is true: We do have resources, and we do have a choice.”

So, what solutions does he propose deal with this problem? What resources does he suggest that we tap?

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EVERY TIME HE TALKS ABOUT ENERGY, MCCAIN CALLS FOR MORE CONSERVATION

In Houston, he said:

“Energy conservation is no longer just a moral luxury or a personal virtue. Conservation serves a critical national goal. Over time, we must shift our entire energy economy toward a sustainable mix of new and cleaner power sources.”

McCain is also careful to say that there are certain special places that must be protected. Facing a crowded hall of Houston oilmen, he specifically took off the table any thought of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He made sure that all references to drilling in the Arctic Refuge were removed from the GOP platform, and he continues to resist the efforts of his running mate to change his mind on that subject.

His position may not be popular among his fellow Republicans, but McCain isn’t running for president to be popular. He’s running to do what is right for our country.

REP says: Bully for John McCain!

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McCain does propose more drilling for American oil. The most controversial of his proposals is to allow drilling offshore from states that want it.

But McCain’s energy ideas are a whole lot more thoughtful than the too-simple “Drill, Baby, Drill” chant that got started at the convention a few weeks back. Now, chanting slogans is part of the fun of being at a national political convention, which is part civics and part carnival. But John McCain knows that an energy plan that can fit on a bumper sticker isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
In Portland, he outlined a sophisticated combination of alternative technologies and renewables: wind and solar power, fuel-cell technology, cleaner burning fuels. He also supports building more nuclear power plants to meet our growing need for energy while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

In short, McCain’s approach to energy is pragmatic and multi-faceted. It has to be, because there are no magic wands that will instantly wave away high prices and energy security worries. For too long, we’ve had our energy eggs in too few baskets. Now, like conservative investors, we must diversify our energy assets. That will take time and hard work. McCain will start by encouraging more conservation and using America’s conventional energy sources. That will buy time for what McCain knows must come next: a hard push to move our nation into an exciting new world where we will, eventually, be truly free—not only of expensive and insecure oil imports but also of our dangerous overdependence on conventional fossil fuels.

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AND THAT BRINGS ME TO THE ISSUE CLOSEST TO MY HEART: THE ENVIRONMENT

In both Portland and Houston, McCain addressed the environmental impacts of our current policies. I’m proud that our party has nominated a candidate with a demonstrated grasp of the greatest environmental and conservation issue of our time: global climate change, or global warming, if you prefer that term.

In Portland, McCain said:

“Whether we call it ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming,’ in the end we’re left with the same set of facts. The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention. Good stewardship, prudence, and simple common sense demand that we act to meet the challenge, and act quickly.”

In Houston a month later, he pointed out that among today’s challenges is one that

“we hardly even understood back when America first learned to associate the word ‘energy’ with ‘crisis.’ We now know that fossil fuel emissions, by retaining heat within the atmosphere, threaten disastrous changes in climate. No challenge of energy is to be taken lightly, and least of all the need to avoid the consequences of global warming.”

Many people know what a great leader McCain has been on the issue of climate change, but I suspect that some of you may not be aware of how forward-thinking and politically courageous his climate leadership has been. So I want to take a minute to tell you a little story that illustrates what I mean.

I’m going to take you back to February 2000, when two other REP leaders and I met at the Phoenix airport with Senator McCain, whom we had endorsed for president a few weeks earlier. We were now having our first in-person meeting with him. The senator was on his way home for a few days of R&R after his win in the New Hampshire primary. The air was electric as John and Cindy McCain and a couple of aides came into the little room where we were waiting for them.

“What do I tell ‘em about global warming?” was the first thing out of McCain’s mouth as he shook hands all around. “Everywhere I go, people are asking me about global warming. I need a good Republican answer! Can you help me?”

I looked at my colleagues, swallowed hard, and said, “Senator, we’ll get you a white paper on that subject right away.” And I’m proud to say… we did.

In those days, REP was made up entirely of volunteers. Yet within a few days, thanks to our colleague Jim DiPeso, we were able to get a fully fleshed-out, Republican-oriented position paper on climate change into Senator McCain’s hands. And over the next couple of months, we were delighted to hear our ideas, and even some of our very words, come out of McCain’s mouth as he began talking more confidently about climate change.

During the presidential primaries of 2000, as in the primaries of 2008, McCain was the only GOP candidate who even had a substantive position on climate—much less brought the subject up unbidden. Not only did that show true commitment to the issue, but also remarkable political courage.

In 2001, soon after he lost the nomination, Commerce Committee Chairman McCain held a series of hearings on climate change, the first ever held in the Senate. Jim DiPeso, who is now REP’s policy director, recently described those, in his inimitable way, as

“real hearings designed to elicit real information from real scientists—not show hearings to trot out skeptics touting a predigested conclusion that fit with a pre-existing political agenda.”

Not long after that, John McCain and Joe Lieberman wrote a first-rate cap-and-trade bill and pressed for Senate floor votes on it. And in the years since, McCain has taken his congressional colleagues to the ends of the earth— Alaska, Antarctica and Greenland—to let them see for themselves the impacts of climate change and convince them that now is the time to act.

None of this won McCain much support within our party, but he did it—and he kept on raising the issue of climate change, even in last year’s pre-primary debates when it was politically very risky—because he knew it was the right thing to do.

I want to quote my colleague Jim DiPeso again, because he shows how John McCain is different from the run-of-the-mill politician.

Jim points out that:

“the politically correct stance about global warming among many who consider themselves conservative is a four-level hierarchy.

“Level 1. Global warming is not real because Al Gore made the whole thing up.
“Level 2. It might be real, but it has mostly natural causes.
“Level 3. It’s probably real and human activities might have something to do with it, but there is nothing we can do about it without wrecking the economy.
“Level 4. We probably ought to do something, but let’s wait for more research.”

Jim says:

“What’s interesting about McCain’s approach to this issue is that he dismisses the entire four-step hierarchy and reframes the issue in traditional conservative terms.”

In a speech last year, McCain said:

“Some urge we do nothing because we can’t be certain how bad the problem might become or they presume the worst effects are most likely to occur in our grandchildren’s lifetime. I’m a proud conservative, and I reject that kind of live-for-today, ‘me generation,’ attitude.”

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SO… HOW DOES JOHN MCCAIN PROPOSE TO SLOW, REVERSE, AND ULTIMATELY SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF CLIMATE CHANGE?

One of his answers—the most obvious one—is to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions by diversifying our energy supplies. His five-year-old cap-and-trade bill is still a road-map for where McCain wants to lead the country.

As he said in Portland,

“We will cap emissions according to specific goals, measuring progress by reference to past carbon emissions. By the year 2012, we will seek a return to 2005 levels of emission; by 2020, a return to 1990 levels, and so on until we have achieved at least a reduction of sixty percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.”

Those are good, achievable goals.

If McCain is able to implement his plan, new technologies that either exist today or will be invented in response to his new push will stimulate the creation of new industries, new jobs, and new wealth all across our country.

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As a certified, card-carrying Republican environmentalist, I am thrilled to see a Republican presidential nominee think and act in this forward-looking way.

But here, as in so many other ways, McCain is a maverick. He’s certainly not your stereotypical environmentalist. He has taken considerable heat from many in the environmental community because of his call this summer for more offshore drilling.

And to be honest, that caused some discomfort within the REP family, too.

But even if McCain hadn’t taken that new position, his energy plan would have raised hackles among many in the environmental community.

That’s because in addition to the safe and acceptable alternative energy solutions that I mentioned earlier—wind, solar, fuel-cell and biomass technology, and the like—he’s also calling for an increase in construction of nuclear reactors. And he has a good argument to make for nukes.

In Portland, McCain said:

“We have 104 nuclear reactors in our country, generating about twenty percent of our electricity. These reactors alone spare the atmosphere from about 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released every year. That’s the annual equivalent of nearly all emissions from all the cars we drive in America…  It doesn’t take a leap in logic to conclude that if we want to arrest global warming, then nuclear energy is a powerful ally in that cause.”

Frankly, my friends, as McCain would say… that’s a gutsy position in a nation that’s still spooked by Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

But America must consider each and every technology that can help wean us off fossil fuels. As I said earlier, there are no magic wands. There are good and not-so-good ways of developing and managing nuclear power plants. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel on this. France can be a prickly friend at times, but the French have really shown us how to do nuclear right.

McCain would also like to see a new international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and which our country did not sign on to because developing nations were not held to the same standard as developed nations.

In Portland, he promised more aggressive action:

“I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears… I will not accept the same dead-end of failed diplomacy that claimed Kyoto. The United States will lead … with an approach that speaks to the interests and obligations of every nation. Shared dangers mean shared duties, and global problems require global cooperation… No nation should be exempted from its obligations. And least of all should we make exceptions for the countries that are accelerating carbon emissions while the rest of us seek to reduce emissions.”

That was a tremendously positive statement, one that we at REP and serious-minded people everywhere were grateful to hear from a Republican presidential nominee.

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I’D LIKE TO END WITH A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COSTS OF OUR CURRENT ENERGY POLICY.

John McCain spent considerable time in his Houston speech talking about the “other costs” of a same-old-same-old approach to energy. I can only offer a few highlights, so I will encourage you again to go to rep.org, find this talk of mine, and follow the link to that speech of his. For now, let me sum up his arguments.

The following pithy quotation from the speech in Houston just about says it all:

“The massive wealth we have spent over the years on foreign oil is not flowing to the most upstanding citizens of the world.”

He points out three ways that our current bad habits are undercutting our own national interest.

First:

“We are borrowing from foreign lenders to buy oil from foreign producers. Often we are even borrowing Saudi money for Saudi oil. For them, the happy result is that they are both supplier and creditor to the most productive economy on earth. For us, the result is both dependency and debt. Over time, in interest payments, we lose trillions of dollars that could have been better invested in American enterprises.”

Second:

“Oil revenues are enriching the enemies of the United States, and potentially limiting our own options in containing the threat they present. Iran alone receives more than 66 billion dollars a year from oil sales, even as that regime finances terrorists, threatens Israel, and endangers the peace of the world with its designs on nuclear weapons.”

Third:

By shifting vast wealth to the Middle East, Venezuela, Angola, and other countries, our current energy habits are enriching “undemocratic, unjust, and often corrupt regimes. Among the many luxuries their oil wealth affords them is the luxury of ignoring their own people. Our petrodollars are underwriting tyranny, anti-Semitism, the brutal repression of women in the Middle East, and dictators and criminal syndicates in our own hemisphere. We cannot allow the world’s greatest democracy to be complicit in such corruption and injustice.”

It seems to me that, even if the wealthy are not concerned about the high cost of energy, and even if the less environmentally minded don’t believe in or care about climate change…  there is no way that the American people can ignore what John McCain called these “harmful and perverse” effects of our bad energy habits.

Learning new energy habits, diversifying our energy choices, and rewiring our energy economy will be one of the hardest jobs that our country will face over the next several decades.

John McCain has the vision and the moral courage to lead us down this difficult but necessary road.

We at REP are grateful that he is our party’s nominee, and we urge every forward-looking American to give him your enthusiastic support.

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