The New York Times,Nov. 16, 2004
Two weeks after the end of a campaign in which he stumped for Mr. Bush's re-election, Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, is convening a Senate hearing today on the human effect on climate and what to do about it.
Mr. Bush, citing the cost to the economy and what the administration describes as the uncertainty of the science, has opposed restrictions on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases since early 2001, when he abandoned a pledge he made in his first presidential campaign to restrict carbon dioxide from power plants.
In contrast, for three years Mr. McCain has pushed for a bill he wrote with Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, that would create the first, modest curbs on greenhouse gases.
"This is a very time-sensitive issue," he said in an interview yesterday.
Dana M. Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said that Mr. Bush saw climate change as a serious issue but that he favored using voluntary means to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, as "a first step in an aggressive strategy to meet the challenge of long-term global climate change."
The focus of today's hearing, the last of Mr. McCain's six-year tenure as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, will be rapid warming in the Arctic, the subject of a recent report by a panel of nearly 300 scientists. The report, commissioned by eight nations with Arctic territory, including the United States, found that rising temperatures had already eroded glaciers, sea ice and permafrost and could lead to vast changes in the region's environment and in global sea levels by the end of the 21st century.
The hearing is the latest of more than a dozen on human-caused global warming that Mr. McCain has convened during his chairmanship of the committee. The new chairman is expected to be Senator Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican who has voted against Mr. McCain's bill but has often said that the warming climate poses a severe challenge to his state and particularly to indigenous Arctic cultures.
The hearings have been organized in part to build a case for the McCain-Lieberman bill, called the Climate Stewardship Act.
Mr. McCain said that the bill, which he describes as modest, had probably lost some support in the Senate because of the election results, but that he looked at this as a temporary setback.
"We got 43 votes," he said of the last vote on the bill, a year ago. "We may get less than that given the change in the Senate. But we need to get people on the record.''
Environmental campaigners and industry lobbyists have tended to agree that whatever the bill's short-term prospects in the Senate, it is very unlikely to pass in the House any time soon.
Mr. McCain said he had decided to agree to disagree with Mr. Bush on the issue during the campaign. But he strongly criticized frequent assertions by the White House, many Republican legislators and industry lobbyists that inaction was justified by uncertainty in the science.
For their part, advocates associated with industry say Mr. McCain has custom-tailored his hearings to play up the direst climate projections.
After a McCain climate hearing in September, for example, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian group opposed to regulations as a solution to most environmental problems, described the gathering as "another pep rally to build support for his energy rationing legislation" and said it had "focused on junk science."
But Mr. McCain said yesterday that the evidence, which he called alarming, was clearer than ever.
With several other senators, he visited the Arctic fringe in Norway and Iceland in late summer.
"It was remarkable,'' he said, "going up on a small ship next to this glacier and seeing where it had been just 10 short years ago and how quickly it's receded.''
Particularly disturbing, he went on, is the rapid pace of warming.
"The Inuit language for 10,000 years never had a word for robin," he said, "and now there are robins all over their villages."