In Depth

McCain's environmental record

On environmental issues, the Republican nominee for president has gone from hero to zero.

By Ben Whitford

In January 2006, Brad Miller, a Democratic congressman from North Carolina, joined Sen. John McCain on a legislative fact-finding delegation to the South Pole. Miller recalls the lawmakers, still bundled in their emergency cold-weather gear, huddling into a tiny conference room a stone’s throw from the pole itself, where nervous climate scientists showed them ice-core data that a few months later would serve as the dramatic centerpiece of Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. “We were all fairly taken aback,” says Miller. But McCain was less interested in the science, which he seemed to accept at face value, than in finding ammunition to use against his opponents back in Washington; during the presentation, he bombarded the scientists with questions about whether the Bush administration or his rivals in the Senate had tried to suppress the researchers’ findings. “McCain absolutely grilled them,” Miller says. “He was really pushing these guys about whether they were allowed to say what they really thought.” Later that night, with the midnight sun still overhead, McCain buttonholed Miller in the dingy prefab hut that served as the research station’s bar and, over a beer, held forth about the importance of tackling climate change. McCain had recently read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and lectured Miller on the story of Easter Island, whose inhabitants wrecked their ecosystem and ultimately their entire society. “He seemed to be trying to impress upon me that he was a kindred spirit on the subject of the environment,” Miller says. “He said it needed to be our urgent business.”


Continue reading McCain's environmental record

Coal and clear skies: Obama’s balancing act

An investigative report of presidential hopeful Barack Obama's environmental philosophy

By Ben Whitford

Photo courtesy of Alison Kelley. Barack Obama stands with fellow NYPIRG staffer and student chair of the organization, Diana Klos, in 1984. The hand-drawn poster champions more funds for New York City’s public transportation system.

When Barack Obama arrived in Washington as a newly elected senator in early 2005, he landed in the middle of an environmental firestorm. Obama had been assigned a seat on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee - and the first order of business was the Clear Skies Act. The brainchild of the Bush administration, the CSA was presented as an initiative to reduce air pollution and boost the economy; it was applauded by industry groups, but drew sharp criticism from environmentalists and many Democrats, who said the move would weaken existing clean-air regulations, loosen caps on a range of air pollutants, delay the enforcement of smog and soot standards, and exempt power plants from rules requiring them to comply with modern emission standards.
That put Obama in an awkward position. As a state legislator in Springfield, he’d cultivated a reputation as a staunch supporter of environmental issues; in 2003, he’d been one of just six senators to receive a 100 percent ranking from the Illinois Environmental Council. But he’d also gone out of his way to build ties with downstate Democrats and their coal-belt constituents; months earlier, on the campaign trail, he’d promised Illinoisan miners that he’d fight to defend their interests. Now, on the national stage, Obama found himself pegged as a key swing vote on the Environment committee, and the focus of intensive lobbying from both environmental advocates and representatives of Big Coal. Even the Bush administration sought to twist Obama’s arm, sending Stephen Johnson—shortly to be anointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency—to rally support for the legislation in the economically distressed coal country of southern Illinois. 

Continue reading Coal and clear skies: Obama’s balancing act

The Environmentalist’s Guide to the Congressional Elections (and more)

Your three-click cheat sheet for Tuesday's most significant choices other than McCain vs. Obama.

By Ben Whitford

With all the attention focused on the race for the White House, one could almost forget that November 4 will also see the election of 470 members of Congress, and countless statewide ballot initiatives. Many of these have the potential for major environmental repercussions. Here are some of the down-ticket races to watch. Continue reading The Environmentalist’s Guide to the Congressional Elections (and more)

What’s Scarier?

There are no wrong answers to our Halloween quiz

By Tobin Hack

Do we even need Halloween this year? There’s certainly no dearth of things to be afraid of these days, what with the election creeping neigh, sickly coral reefs kicking the bucket, home foreclosures rates rising as quickly as the Dow plummets, and BPA studies telling us we may have poisoned the next generation with toxin-leeching baby bottles. We could probably skip the junk-tastic holiday altogether and feel quite tremulous enough, thanks. But since Halloween’s here whether we need it or not—though we might, if we reach complete financial meltdown by 4pm Eastern—it seemed like a fun experiment to see how various Halloween-related terrors stack up against their environmental counterparts, horror-wise. By “fun,” of course, we mean “morbidly depressing.” Enjoy.

Continue reading What’s Scarier?

How green are the candidates?

The environmental choices of Senators McCain and Obama could point to what kind of environmental president one of them will be.

By Samantha Harvey

Much has been written about the presidential candidates' policy proposals for energy and the environment, and with only a week to go before the election, the choice between Senators McCain and Obama is fairly clear for environmentalists. The candidate who said, “The truly clean technologies don't work” is the same one who inspires  chants of “drill, baby, drill” — and he’s not the candidate for us. But what do the candidates' personal choices say about what kind of leaders they might become? Continue reading How green are the candidates?
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Issue 25

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