John McCain can't quite seem to make up his mind as to where he falls on the issue of conservation. On one hand, he proudly labels himself a disciple of Theodore Roosevelt's muscular approach to conservation, going so far as to proclaim on his campaign website that a "McCain White House will reflect the guiding principles of Theodore Roosevelt". On the other, he has amassed what can only be called an underwhelming (and deeply confused) environmental record over his long years in the House and Senate, earning a lifetime League of Conservation Voters score of 24 -- including a 2007 score of 0.
Nowhere is this seeming contradiction more apparent than in McCain's vote for a bill funding a study of grizzly bears in Montana, as Mongabay's Jeremy Hance reported a few days ago. During the campaign, McCain has often made a great show of talking up his prowess in taking on earmarks, which, despite their relative insignificance to the overall budget (the WaPo's Michael Dobbs called it McCain's "fantasy war on earmarks"), he cites as an example of Congressional excess and frivolity. And while there's no denying that this characterization is valid in many cases -- think Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" -- he has sometimes mischaracterized, or even voted for, the measures he has ridiculed.
Case in point was a grizzly bear study which the McCain campaign included in an ad decrying pork-and-barrel spending that was widely aired during the primaries. Leave aside the fact that McCain actually voted in favor of funding the study, according to FactCheck.org, for the moment. John McCain described the bill as being tantamount to an expensive bear paternity test, providing $3 million to "study the DNA of bears in Montana" -- which, it turns out, is way off the mark.
Indeed, because grizzly bears are protected under the Endangered Species Act, the study was needed to survey their populations in Montana by collecting hair samples on barbed wire. As the NYT editorial board put it:
The intent of the study, whose results have not yet been published, is to estimate the size and makeup of the grizzly bear population in a vast region, encompassing Glacier National Park, five wilderness areas, parts of five national forests and other public and private lands in a largely roadless, mountainous terrain. Scientists collected hairs snagged by strategically placed barbed wire to extract DNA that could identify how many bears had passed by, their gender and unique identity. Statistical models could then predict the total population.
That is hardly frivolous. It is a prerequisite for sensible administration of the Endangered Species Act.
It's hard to imagine Roosevelt making light of such a vital study, given that he favored robust conservation efforts to protect endangered animals. One can be sure that he would have strongly disapproved of the Bush administration's latest efforts to gut the ESA before leaving office -- an issue about which McCain said he had "no comment".
In a larger sense, this seems to represent McCain's general modus operandi: talk up the big environmental issues that appeal to voters on the campaign trail but, when push comes to shove, backtrack or miss the crucial vote. And, whenever possible, take the most blatantly opportunistic stand on the issue in question. This passage from Amy Silverman's illuminating profile perfectly captures the senator's two-faced approach to environmentalism:
McCain did vote with Udall on environmental issues — for a while. But Udall left Congress in 1991, and for years, McCain's earned dismal marks from environmental groups, including a zero in the League of Conservation Voters' most recent ratings.
Representatives of the local chapter of the Sierra Club haven't been able to get a meeting with him in at least the past year, if not two. The last time they did, he just complained that the group's positions were unrealistic, recalls Sandy Bahr, the chapter's director.
McCain tends to support big-picture issues that will play well with voters, but when it has come to protecting Arizona over the past 26 years — well, not so much.
In the 1980s, McCain made a name for himself, supporting the limitation of air flights over the Grand Canyon, but in recent years, backed off the effort when environmentalists wanted to expand the limits from small tour planes to commercial aviation. And he's taken a lot of heat recently for refusing to weigh in on efforts to mine uranium near the Grand Canyon.
In fact, despite a vague statement issued last week saying he might, at some point, support mining reform, McCain has failed for years to back proposed changes to the horribly outdated Mining Act of 1872 — and evidence of that is strewn all over Arizona in the form of large strip mines and environmental degradation.
When it comes to Arizona environmental issues, though, McCain's best known for an infamous U.S. Governmental Accountability Office report that details threats he made to the job of a forest service official who dared to disagree with him on the topic of the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel.
Not very Udall-esque.
Teddy Roosevelt must be rolling over in his grave.
Image from tch1337