Muckraker: Grist on PoliticsGrist recently caught a few minutes with Carly Fiorina, the “Victory Chair” of the Republican National Committee. (Quite the title, eh? Apparently it means she’s “the primary advocate for John McCain and the Republican Party” at the RNC.)

Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a former executive at both AT&T and Lucent Technologies, is charged with traveling the country to promote McCain’s plans for economic growth and job creation. Grist asked her how she thinks his climate policy fits into that plan, and what kind of reception they’ve had so far in promoting his environmental agenda.

What do you think McCain’s speech this week said about the changing politics of global warming?

It’s an issue that matters to a lot of people. In particular it matters to a lot of young people. I think it’s important that when we think about taking on some of the great challenges now as opposed to leaving them to future generations, we have to talk not only about Social Security and medical care, but also about leaving our planet cleaner for the next generation than we found it. So I think that’s the context in which he’s talking about climate change, which I think is related closely to the whole discussion of energy independence.

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Since you’re traveling around promoting Sen. McCain’s climate plans for the RNC, what’s been the reaction so far, particularly from the business community?

This is the beginning of the conversation, not the end. As you might expect, there is mixed reaction to his specific proposals, although I think there is growing consensus that the issues of climate change and energy independence are inextricably linked. And I think what at a high level, at a philosophical level, what John McCain laid out this week is the fundamental principle that we cannot address the preservation of the environment and ensure that our economy continues to grow unless we rely on innovation to help us solve these problems.

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He seems to leave the door open for the auction of carbon credits, but doesn’t actually outline any plans there. Auctioning credits would create even greater market incentive to go green. So, why not push for greater, faster auction, as the other presidential candidates have done?

I think the goal that McCain set in his speech — and you’re right, those goals differ and are lower than the goals that Obama or Clinton would suggest — is because he’s a realist and practical about what’s actually an achievable goal. You don’t actually get anything done — and as a businesswoman I know this — if you set goals that are out of reach. When you get something done is when you set a goal that is ambitious but achievable.

He said very little in the speech about the role of government in advancing alternative energy and getting these technologies on the market.

One role of government that he’s talked about a lot is to fund basic research. The internet is a classic example. The internet started as a basic research project for the government, and ultimately that research produced a capability that could be improved upon by entrepreneurs. I think in this regard, John McCain would be saying that we should be doing the same thing through government-funded basic research, and we can make more rapid progress on some of these important, innovative technologies, and let the marketplace and the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people take those out into the marketplace.

A lot of people have asked why he calls for support for a mature industry like nuclear, and not for less mature industries like wind and solar. Why is that?

I don’t think that’s completely true, but I do think it’s a reflection of the reality that without embracing nuclear power, we won’t achieve energy independence. It’s not that wind and solar are not important. They’re very important. They’re necessary but they’re insufficient given the amount of energy we consume and demand and require. He’s just giving straight talk. He’s being realistic. If we want to achieve energy independence, we have to go to nuclear power.

What are some of the key tax incentives that McCain could push for, in your opinion, to really develop the green economy?

I think he believes that the cap-and-trade system, if appropriately executed — and there are lots of places where it has not been appropriately executed — can create tax incentives for innovation, because in essence it permits companies to build up cash if they can develop and utilize alternative technologies. He would also make the R&D tax credit permanent. That encourages innovation in research and development, without a doubt.

How about the production tax credit for renewable energy?

I think that’s another example.

Is that something you think he will support, since that’s something that’s likely to come up again soon.

I don’t want to make any predictions about it specifically, but he has demonstrated that he is willing to look at all good ideas. He’s not an ideologue, although he has very firm principles, one of which is that markets work. So I think he will look at any and all good ideas, including that one.

Your role at the RNC is to help promote the senator’s plans to create jobs and economic growth. What’s the connection here with his climate plan?

The connection is that innovation creates jobs. Innovation is what builds small businesses. Small businesses become big businesses, but small businesses produce 75 percent of the jobs in this country. Innovation is what creates whole new industries — that’s where you get jobs. For me, it’s not just about environmental policy, it’s about economic policy.