We’ve heard climate double talk from McCain on "mandates" and "dependence on foreign energy sources." Now, in a stunning interview with E&E News ($ub. req’d), the McCain campaign seriously undermines its claim that the Arizona senator could successfully take on the global warming threat.

As the reporter put it, "the Arizona senator’s presidential campaign is trying to differentiate itself from its Democratic rivals by rejecting calls for additional climate-themed restrictions." This, however, is a potentially fatal difference.

I don’t know which of three statements by "Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a McCain campaign policy adviser" is more wrong-headed.

"The basic idea is if you go with a cap and trade and do it right with appropriate implementation, you don’t need technology-specific and sectoral policies that are on the books and that others are proposing simultaneously."

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This statement could not be more inaccurate and naïve. A cap-and-trade system without on aggressive technology development/deployment effort, especially in the transportation sector, will inevitably fail because it causes too much economic pain, as I explained at length in "No climate for old men." And now we get the explicit statement that McCain opposes "technology-specific and sectoral policies that are on the books" if we have a cap-and-trade.

Does anybody who cares about climate change really think we are pushing clean technologies and clean transportation too hard? Other than Sen. McCain’s campaign, that is — we’ve already seen that McCain does not support renewable technology tax credits that have been "on the books" for years even before we have a cap-and-trade system. This is an especially jaw-dropping statement given that even the delayers themselves have been saying we need a bigger clean tech push for years.

Holtz-Eakin … questioned the candidates’ [Obama’s and Clinton’s] calls for a new federal low carbon fuel limit, stronger fuel economy standards and policies to reduce U.S. oil consumption. Cap and trade, Holtz-Eakin said, is the ideal solution by itself … Asked if this position meant McCain would block implementation of new corporate average fuel economy requirements that President Bush signed into law last December, Holtz-Eakin replied, "He’s not proposing to eliminate those. He simply wants to check as time goes on if they become completely irrelevant. You might want to take them off the books [!!!], but we’re not there yet."

He cannot be serious. We might "want to take [fuel economy standards] off the books" because a cap-and-trade system might render them irrelevant? Uh, no. Let’s go through this again.

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In the Energy Information Administration’s own analysis of using a cap-and-trade system to reduce U.S. emissions — a flawed study, but one that is a good economic model of McCain’s strategy, since it doesn’t capture technology deployment strategies or fuel economy standards — the price of carbon hits politically impossible levels, $348 per metric ton, which, in the EIA analysis, doubles the price for electricity. But that price for carbon would raise gasoline prices by under a dollar a gallon and thus would not have much impact on average U.S. fuel economy or the success of alternative fuels (much as the recent price jump from $2 a gallon to $3 didn’t). Long before the carbon price hit that level, businesses and consumers would demand the price be capped, or the program shut down entirely, ending the U.S. effort to stop catastrophic global warming.

"You don’t need redundant policies that interfere with the flexibility that is the key to meeting these desirable goals at low costs …" Pressed to explain what beyond a cap-and-trade program would be needed, Holtz-Eakin replied, "He wants to see the use of nukes. The ultimate policy proposal will be designed to make sure that’s true."

The hypocrisy is staggering. "Redundant policies" that push renewables or efficiency would interfere with flexibility that supposedly keeps costs low. Indeed, we can even take existing clean tech policies off the books once we have a cap-and-trade. But ramming expensive nuclear power plants down the public’s throat — that’s fine.

Note, the nonpartisan Keystone report "Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding" (PDF) from June 2007, found nuclear power isn’t cheap: "8.3 to 11.1 cents per kilo-watt hour." As a study by Cambridge Energy Research Associates found, nuclear power plant costs have soared in the last couple of years. And of course, nuclear power has a major supply bottleneck that will inevitably drive up costs for any country that wants to rapidly accelerate the construction of nuclear power plants.

The fact that this guy is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office means, of course, he is an economist, which is perhaps all you need to know about him. The fact he is acting as a senior advisor and surrogate for McCain is a very bad sign. Holtz-Eakin could easily end up as the head of McCain’s Council Economic Advisers, National Economic Council, or, scariest of all, the Office of Management and Budget — where he could (further) cripple clean tech programs for years to come (beyond the damage the Bush administration has already done).

This was one of the central points from my long analysis, No climate for old men: McCain would appoint all the wrong people to key positions, and they would undermine or block the key policies needed to tackle warming cost effectively. This stunning interview confirms my worst fears.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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