McCain’s Climate Change Plan: Great Politics, Terrible Policy

Scott Johnson has a deeply skeptical look at Sen. McCain’s new “climate change” policy

. From a standpoint of policy, that skepticism is well warranted. The political story, however, is entirely different.

The political reality is this: global warming concerns are part of the political landscape now. Too many voters have bought into the hype to stake a position on the theory that climate change doesn’t matter in this election. While that is bad science, that is also the political reality the GOP faces. For that matter, even if there is no man-made global warming, there’s no reason why America shouldn’t be looking ahead to an age of increasing scarcity of oil. The more power America gets domestically from renewable resources, the fewer petrodollars flow into the hands of two-bit tyrants like Hugo Chavez. Some “green” policies make sense for other reasons than environmental hysteria.

The problem with the McCain approach is that it gets the politics right, but makes for atrocious public policy. For example, a “cap and trade” system would necessitate a massive new government bureaucracy and raise America’s energy prices. The Congressional Budget Office has found that the current Lieberman-Warner bill amounts to a trillion dollar tax increase in a time when Americans are already finding it hard to pay for energy. Even more troubling, this tax would be incredibly regressive, its impacts adding more stress to families barely able to pay for heat and fuel.

Republicans should have a plan that reduces our dependence on sources of energy that produce pollution. However, that should not mean abandoning political principles or the rules of basic economics. The GOP should push for more clean nuclear power, tax credits for research and development of clean fuel sources, and should embrace something like Bob Zubrin’s flex-fuel plan (using cellulosic ethanol rather than burning what we eat). There are plenty of economically viable ways for the U.S. to “go green,” but we need policymakers willing to support those sound policies.

The GOP has good reason to grumble at McCain’s energy policy, but the fact that it talks about climate change is not it. It would be nice for more politicians to stand against the bad science behind the global warming movement, but in an election year you have to pick and choose your battles, and this year the GOP needs to have an energy policy on the table to compete on this issue.