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Originally published Tuesday, May 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Election 2008

In Oregon, McCain touts his cap-and-trade system to fight global warming

In a major environmental speech, Sen. John McCain on Monday said he would combat global warming with a cap-and-trade system to cut carbon...

Seattle Times staff reporter

PORTLAND — In a major environmental speech, Sen. John McCain on Monday said he would combat global warming with a cap-and-trade system to cut carbon emissions and increase use of nuclear power and alternative energy.

"We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great," said McCain, the Arizona senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee. "The most relevant question now is whether our own government is equal to the challenge."

He cited long-term declines in the Northwest snowpack, a drought in the Southwest and melting glaciers in Alaska and Norway as evidence the planet is warming.

McCain made his remarks at the U.S. headquarters for Vestas, a Danish company that is a global leader in wind power. He is scheduled to follow up today with an appearance at an environmental round-table at North Bend.

Former Washington Gov. Dan Evans, state Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland and REI President Sally Jewell are among the round-table's expected participants

The Portland appearance reflects the importance that global warming is expected to play in the fall election.

A major change from Bush

McCain's policies would represent a major change from President Bush, who has opposed a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, and also balked at securing new international agreements to limit emissions.

"I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears," McCain said pointedly. "I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges."

Under McCain's plan, carbon polluters would have to meet emission targets. If they cut emissions below those targets, they could sell credits to other polluters. "A cap-and-trade policy will send a signal that will be heard and welcomed all across the American economy," McCain said. "And the highest rewards will go to those who make the smartest, safest, most responsible choices."

Both Democratic candidates — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois — also have proposed cap-and-trade programs to combat greenhouse-gas emissions. But while McCain calls for a 60 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2050, compared to 1990 levels, Clinton and Obama propose an 80 percent cut.

McCain's plan reflects a maverick role within his party on climate change. He has journeyed to a retreating glacier in Norway, held hearings to highlight the science behind global warming and twice joined with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., in failed efforts to pass legislation to reduce greenhouse gases.

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"He knows this stuff is real, and speaks with authority on the climate-change issue," said Kert Davies, research director for U.S. Greenpeace.

Still, McCain's plan is drawing criticism from environmentalists. One objection is his embrace of nuclear power, which doesn't require the use of carbon-producing fossil fuels.

Role for nuclear energy

In his speech, McCain called nuclear energy a "powerful ally" in combating global warming, and said his cap-and-trade system would provide major incentives to build more nuclear plants.

Environmentalists, citing still unresolved efforts to find a safe, long-term storage of nuclear waste, want to see the focus kept on renewable energy such as wind and solar power. "It is ironic that McCain speaks at Vestas, a leading wind-power company, and ends up talking about nuclear power, which is far more risky," Davies said.

Obama, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, makes no mention of increased use of nuclear power in his climate-change plan.

Two of McCain's former aides, Doug Davenport and Doug Goodyear, worked for a lobbying and public-relations firm that had ties to oil-industry efforts opposing a crackdown on carbon emissions.

Davenport and Goodyear have been employed by the DCI Group, and resigned from McCain's campaign in recent days after media reports about a 2002 DCI contract to represent the ruling junta of Myanmar.

In 2006, DCI helped organize a conference by the Heartland Institute that featured oil-industry speakers and a session on why cap-and-trade policies will not work, according to an agenda of the meeting.

But Jill Hazelbaker, a spokeswoman for McCain, said the resignations had nothing to do with DCI's work on behalf of the oil industry.

And in his speech Monday, McCain gave little comfort to skeptics who believe global warming is overblown. "We have many advantages in the fight against global warming, but time is not one of them," McCain said.

"Instead of idly debating the precise extent of global warming, or the precise timeline of global warming, we need to deal with the central facts of rising temperatures, rising waters and all the endless troubles that global warming will bring."

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com.

Staff researcher Gene Balk contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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