Sen. John McCain Was a Warrior for the Climate

Statement of Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense Fund

August 27, 2018
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396,

This piece was first published as an Op Ed in the Wall Street Journal 

“As a prisoner of war two generations ago, John McCain proved his patriotism and bravery. But it was through his more recent work to protect future generations of Americans that I knew Sen. McCain. Tributes to the American hero, who died Saturday at 81, must not overlook the political bravery — and, yes, patriotism — he showed in the fight to meet the threat of climate change.

“Long before other Republican lawmakers, McCain spoke out loudly about the dangers climate pollution posed to America and the world. While his colleagues treated climate change as a political issue, or sought to protect their benefactors, the gentleman from Arizona warned about ‘[the melting of glaciers, the dying of coral reefs, and rising ocean temperatures.’ If McCain’s colleagues had followed his lead, the risks Americans face from climate change today would be far more manageable and less costly.

“McCain spoke with young people passionate about climate change during his 2000 presidential campaign. Convinced that ‘most of the observed warming over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities,’ he hoped to build a bipartisan consensus for action.

“Along with his friend, Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, McCain sponsored the first Climate Stewardship Act in 2003, which would have capped U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions at the 2000 level. The bill failed, but that didn’t stop McCain. ‘The question,’ he said in 2005, ‘is how much damage will be done before we start taking concrete action.’ After he won the Republican presidential nomination, one of his first major speeches was on climate change and clean energy. Yes — only a decade ago both major-party presidential candidates supported limits on carbon pollution.

“Since McCain’s defeat, the further hardening of partisan lines paused progress on federal legislation addressing climate change. Noting this reality, McCain stepped back from the issue for a time. But through my conversations with him in recent years, I know it was never far from his mind. Indeed, when the Trump administration tried last year to overturn restrictions on emissions of methane, a major cause of climate change, McCain withstood enormous pressure from the White House and cast the deciding vote to preserve the limits.

“McCain didn’t abandon his conservatism when he embraced conservation. He believed the government’s job is to limit pollution, then let free enterprise innovate and hunt down the lowest-cost solutions. For McCain, the problem was that companies don’t bear the costs they impose on the American public when they pollute. He wanted a market system that recognizes the cost of climate pollution — one that rewards companies for reducing emissions.

“I did not always agree with McCain on policy and strategy, but I always believed he would never stop fighting to make America better, safer and more prosperous. For him, the fight against climate change was a natural part of that lifelong crusade.”           

            - Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund

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