It was sad to see Senator John McCain, R-Ariz. in a recent floor speech publically shed the last vestiges of his pro-environmental maverick identity. It was an identity that reached its apex two decades ago, when he was frequently bucking his conservative-minded party and urging it to follow him into green pastures.
Holding sway in the Senate chamber in late July, McCain totally capitulated to polluters as he railed against every major environmental initiative of President Obama's. The senator pledged to do everything in his power to block pending environmental rules and repeal those already in place, a far cry from his earlier stance.
On McCain's hit list were administration rules: to protect 60 percent of the nation's streams that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans; reduce global warming-related greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants; and tighten restrictions on health-threatening, ozone-forming pollutants discharged from industrial releases and vehicle tailpipe exhaust.
The Senator's take on these environmental rules was that they "are Obama's attempt to unconstitutionally and unilaterally forge a legacy that will chill the economy."
This was McCain's pretext for his personal attack on Obama and the president's environmental policies, which the senator asserts will overregulate small businesses and impose crushing costs.
But small business owners have the same health concerns and reliance on potable drinking water as the rest of us, concerns that were not referenced by McCain in his floor speech. Nor did the senator bother to at least acknowledge the existence of the favorable cost-benefit analyses submitted by the EPA to justify these rules. He did not suggest trying to improve the rules he found objectionable. It was all search and destroy.
McCain is the same guy who back in a November 22, 1996 New York Times op-ed wrote that government's most important task, with the exception of national security is to leave posterity a land in better shape than it was received. He went on to lament that "all too often, the public views Republicans as favoring big business at the expense of the environment, and as too eager to swing the meat ax of repeal when the scalpel of reform is what is needed."
"Republicans," he continued" should not allow the fringe of the party to set a radical agenda."
Back in the late '90s and early 21st Century, McCain was not just green talk. In 2003, he cosponsored the first Senate bill calling for mandated greenhouse gas emission reductions. He was supportive of increased fuel economy legislation and opposed to industrial development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
How to explain the senator's environmental role reversal?
A likely answer is a political one. It is a combination of a lingering bitterness over his 2008 presidential defeat and the need to woo Arizona's Hard Right for its crucial support in the upcoming primary associated with his reelection bid.