Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Last night, the PBS program Frontline hosted a sneak preview of its new global warming documentary, “Heat,” which will air on Oct. 21. The film covers both the science and the politics of climate change, and we’ll have more on that for you soon.

More interesting for political junkies, though, was the panel afterward, which featured Obama climate and energy adviser David Sandalow, who is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a senior policy adviser for John McCain. The two began their remarks by noting how great it is to have two presidential candidates who agree that climate change is real, human-caused, and needs to be addressed.


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“We have in this presidential campaign two candidates, both of whom have publicly committed to a cap-and-trade solutions to carbon and greenhouse gas emissions to address global warming.” said Holtz-Eakin. “That’s a sea change for the United States, and sadly not too well understood by the public.”

Plugging for his own candidate, Holtz-Eakin continued, “McCain has worked on this issue, introducing legislation on this issue beginning in 2003, with the Climate Solutions Act with Joe Lieberman […] He believes deeply that we need to do this.”

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Sandalow also pitched his candidate: “For Sen. Obama, this is at the core of what he’s going to be doing should he be elected president. We just heard in the last debate on Tuesday the priority he attaches to the energy issue, which is at the core of his climate-change program.”

But then moderator Judy Woodruff asked, if they’re both in agreement about this issue, what is the difference between their plans, and then the “Kumbaya” period was over.

“I guess I could sum that up in two words: Sarah Palin,” said Sandalow. “I really do applaud Sen. McCain for getting out in front in 2003 on this issue, but, you know, just two months ago he chose as his vice president somebody who is in the papers within the past week questioning the validity of the science of global warming.”

“I think that has to give pause to anybody who cares about this issue,” continued Sandalow. “We have seen this bad movie before. The vice president of the United States who questions the science, and who the president says will be in charge of energy policy. I don’t think we want a rerun of this movie.”

Holtz-Eakin maintained that McCain remains as committed to the issue as ever, and that his plan is the more politically feasible. He chided Sandalow for making the Cheney comparison, and shrugged off the Palin issue — even though just one day before McCain was reaffirming his desire to put Palin in charge of energy policy, and his willingness to let her persuade him on energy and environmental issues.

“I thank David for doing his job. It is his job to tie John McCain to George Bush at every opportunity,” said Holtz-Eakin. “John McCain has three times brought [climate] legislation into Congress. He’s fought his own party. He has sent his staff to the international meetings for years now. He is conversant with the international community on this issue. He is dedicated to solving the problem. And there’s nothing about Sarah Palin that changes that.”

Holtz-Eakin also argued that while Obama calls for 80 percent emission reductions by 2050 and McCain calls for 60 percent, both are “within the range of scientific uncertainty.” But, he argued, McCain’s plan is more politically feasible.

“Our view is that McCain’s plan has been focus-group tested within the most difficult audience on the planet, which is the U.S. Senate, and that that’s a plan that has a chance to move quickly as opposed to an 80 percent target,” said Holtz-Eakin.