Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

The Environmental Legacy of Senator John McCain, 1936-2018

Politics

As news outlets around the country reflect on Senator John McCain's life and legacy following his death at 81 on Saturday, one strand that emerges is his attempts as a Senator to push bipartisan action on climate change.

In early 2003, McCain joined with then-Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman to introduce the Climate Stewardship Act, which The New York Times editorial about his death called "the first serious bipartisan bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions by putting a price on carbon."


While the 2003 bill failed, and McCain stepped back from climate leadership during and after his 2008 bid for president, his earlier efforts still stand as a model for future legislative attempts to combat climate change.

"Lieberman and McCain were really good examples of a Democrat and Republican intentionally, consciously and thoughtfully trying to work across the aisle to build a 60-vote coalition in the Senate on climate," Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund Executive Director Kevin Curtis, who was an environmental lobbyist on Capitol Hill during the 2000s, told InsideClimateNews. "The point of looking at McCain's legacy, I think, is not to just look back to the 'good old days,' but to look at what we need to get back to."

McCain first became interested in climate change during his 2000 primary bid for president, when student activists asked his campaign about its climate action plans.

In May 2000, he held the first of three Senate hearings on climate change he would convene that year, inviting scientists to testify about issues like melting ice-shelves in Antarctica and the death of coral reefs.

"It was an excellent hearing and I gained a lot of respect for John McCain at that time," hearing witness and senior National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist Kevin Trenberth told InsideClimateNews. "He appeared to have an open mind on what the answers were and what to do about it."

McCain was also willing to stand up to his party's leadership in order to force a vote on his 2003 bill. Both he and Lieberman refused to support an energy bill Senate Majority Leader Republican Bill Frist and Senate Minority Leader Democrat Tom Daschle were trying to get passed until the Senate would allow a floor vote on their Climate Stewardship Act, which would have passed an economy-wide cap-and-trade program for carbon similar to the program in place for acid rain.

Their bill ultimately failed, but the vote was important for signaling to activists where senators actually stood on climate action.

"Obviously, it hasn't yet resulted in getting a comprehensive climate bill through Congress, but it's a big issue, kind of like the civil right issue," Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp told InsideClimateNews. "When we do get there, [McCain] will go down in history as someone who started that progress in a forceful way."

In 2004, Lieberman and McCain introduced a reworked version of the bill, but it failed again in 2005 after increased lobbying by the fossil fuel industry.

While McCain never rejected climate science, he stepped away from leadership on the issue during his 2008 campaign, in which he came out in support of increasing offshore oil drilling, and afterwards, when he faced a primary challenger for his Senate seat who criticized his former climate leadership and was funded by the group Citizens United, which had successfully sued to overturn important parts of his groundbreaking campaign finance reform legislation.

"There's no sugar-coating the fact that he shelved his leadership role on climate for a while," Curtis told InsideClimateNews. "But instead of blaming John McCain for walking away from an issue and not showing up, we should be saying 'holy crap, something profound has happened with the Republican Party,'"

McCain did get one more chance to stand up for the environment in a big way during the Trump administration, as Environment & Energy Report pointed out.

In May 2017, he cast a surprise vote that secured the only defeat of an attempt by Republicans in the current session of Congress to repeal an Obama-era regulation

The bill in question would have used the Congressional Review Act to repeal an Obama-era regulation targeting methane emissions, and McCain objected in part because the repeal would have stopped federal agencies from passing any similar rules in the future.

"Improving the control of methane emissions is an important public health and air quality issue," McCain said in a statement at the time, according to Environment & Energy Report.

Beyond climate change, McCain has also been praised by the National Park Service and the Grand Canyon Association for his work preserving the iconic Arizona landmark and by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions for his work to fund fish hatchery repairs near Hoover Dam and water conservation at Colorado River reservoirs, Environment & Energy report wrote.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less
Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less
Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular. Colin Dunn / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Vergin

It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Data from a scientist measuring macroalgal communities in rocky shores in the Argentinean Patagonia would be added to the new system. Patricia Miloslavich / University of Delaware

Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.

EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.

Read More Show Less