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McCain Talks Climate Change in Oregon Speech


Republican Senator John McCain was in Portland, Oregon today, working on his green credentials. He toured the offices of a wind energy firm and he delivered a speech on global warming.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington. Good stewardship, prudence and simple common sense demand - demand that we act to meet the challenge and act quickly.

NORRIS: McCain has been more outspoken than many Republicans on the subject of global warming. And his campaign is hoping to win over centrist voters concerned about the environment.

NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with Senator McCain. He joins us now. Scott, what kind of action on global warming is Senator McCain calling for.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Michele, John McCain is talking about using market forces to control greenhouse gasses. It's the same time the cap and trade system that's been endorsed by some big utilities and environmental organizations. Basically, he would set a ceiling on the amount of greenhouse gasses industry can emit - that's the cap. And then he would allow those industries to trade pollution permits, so those that are slowing to adjust will pay a price and those who can't cut their greenhouse gasses faster will have an economic incentive to do so.

McCain has been running an ad here in Oregon where he positions the cap and trade solution as the middle ground between politicians who want strict regulation on one end, and those who argue that global warming is myth on the other. In truth, though, all the presidential candidates still in a race are in that middle zone, all three have endorsed the basic ideas - cap and trade - although there are differences between McCain's plan and the Democrats.

NORRIS: So, how is his plan playing with voters who care a lot about the environment?

HORSLEY: Well, McCain clearly sees is as a way to distinguish himself from the oil man in the White House now, and to align himself with more moderate Republicans like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California who's also spoken out forcefully on climate change.

And Senator McCain has gotten some kudos from environmental groups for being out in front of the issue, at least, when compared with some of the other Republicans who are running for President this year. At the same time, some of those environmental groups, like the League of Conservation Voters, has said McCain doesn't go far enough.

They argued that the cap he wants to set on greenhouse gas emissions is too high. He wants a 60 percent reduction by the year 2050, while Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are both calling for an 80 percent reduction.

In addition, credits are worried about how Senator McCain would allocate the pollution credits. The Democrats will auction off those credits and use the proceeds to invest in green energy and offset some of the cost for consumers. McCain has not committed to doing that, although, he did state today that over time an increasing fraction of pollution credits might be distributed to an auction.

NORRIS: Now, Scott, you said that McCain is try to distance himself from the Republicans that are in the White House now, but there will be some natural comparisons. Some, including President Bush, Some Republicans including President Bush, have argued that the U.S. can't prevent global warming without a buy in from China and also from India. What is McCain have to say about that?

HORSLEY: Well, that is one of the big questions. If in U.S. another western industrial countries were to adopt cap and trade system, and China and India didn't participate, not only would you maybe not solve the climate problem, but you could wind up putting the U.S. at an economic disadvantage. McCain said today that if the International community is going to establish meaningful protocols, they must include India and China. But he didn't say that that is an excuse for the U.S. to do nothing until India and China get on board.

Even if negotiations towards an international solution fails, McCain says, the U.S. still has an obligation to act. Now, in an early draft of his speech he suggested that there might be a cost equalization mechanism, maybe some sort of trade sanction that would penalize China and India. When he actually delivered the speech, though, he substituted miles on language saying, only that you would press ahead with diplomacy and technology assistance for India and China.

NORRIS: NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with John McCain and was along with John McCain when he toured a wind energy company. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Michele.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.