Back in February, I wrote about about what the U.S. presidential candidates' said about mitigating climate change. At that time, McCain's proposals were the weakest while there wasn't much air between what Clinton and Obama proposed.
The question remained, however, about what each of the candidates, if they won the presidency, would actually do about climate change. Good climate policy will mean standing up to special interests and leading us through some potentially unpopular policy changes.
And we all know, that when it comes to politicians, there are those who will spend their political capital to help them do what is right and, on the other hand, there are those who will do what is wrong thing to help them win political capital. The question, when it comes to the issue of climate change, was which candidate was which type of politician.
Well, this week, it became clear.
As the New York Times said today in an editorial (with my emphasis):
Senators John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton have hit on a new way to pander to American voters: a temporary suspension of the federal gasoline tax between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The proposal may draw applause and votes from Americans feeling the pain of nearly $4-a-gallon gasoline. But it is an expensive and environmentally unsound policy that would do nothing to help American drivers... Fortunately, Mr. Obama has not caved to the rising calls for cheap energy and has refused to follow his rivals down this misguided path...
Joseph Romm, a progressive, who worked for the Clintons as acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy, writing critically of the gas tax on his blog, Climate Progress, says (again with my emphasis):
I write this post with some sadness. I would not have expected a major progressive politician who obviously cares about global warming to propose a gas tax holiday, which has no public benefits whatsoever, but at the same time undermines the entire rationale behind a national climate strategy that includes, as it must, a pricing mechanism for greenhouse gases. I try, however, to be as consistent as possible — and if such a proposal was cynical and hypocritical for Sen. McCain, it is equally cynical and hypocritical for Sen. Clinton. Kudos to Sen. Obama for opposing this absurd proposal — double kudos because it might cost him a few votes.
According to the Washington Post, meanwhile:
Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw, who has written a best-selling textbook on economics, said what he teaches is different from what Clinton and McCain are saying about gas taxes. "What you learn in Economics 101 is that if producers can't produce much more, when you cut the tax on that good the tax is kept . . . by the suppliers and is not passed on to consumers," he said.
Which makes the move by Clinton and McCain all the more cynical. While the measure will cost the federal government $9 billion and send entirely the wrong message on climate change, McCain and Clinton know as well as anyone else that oil companies won't pass the price break onto consumers but instead will pocket it.
They are paying $9 billion in our money, in other words, to make a false promise. They are trying to trick voters into voting for them.
Environmentalists said, according to the Post:
[that] stoking ire about the cost of gas undermines efforts to build a case for limiting carbon emissions, which could raise prices at the pump. "It sends a confusing message," said Kevin Knoblauch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "What's more helpful is if [politicians] help consumers understand that this isn't about near-term gas prices, it's about a comprehensive and smart approach to energy policies."
The sad news is that this whole mishigas is a first indication of how McCain or Clinton would treat the climate issue if they became president. The good news is that it is also and indication of how Obama would treat it.
PS You might also read Sam Stein's critique of the gas tax vacation at the Huffington Post.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.