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McCain Lays Out New Environment Proposals

Joined by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, Sen. John McCain focused on energy security and environmental stewardship this morning in Santa Barbara, Calif. McCain, who is wrapping up a two-day swing through the state, reiterated his plans to provide tax credits to Americans who purchase low-emission vehicles and a $300-million prize for the creator of a more efficient car battery, and he plugged his cap-and-trade plan for reducing carbon emissions.

He also laid out three new proposals, aimed at making the government more environmentally friendly.

McCain called for updating the national electrical grid to make it more efficient and to prepare for an electric car-infrastructure. He also suggested the federal government engage in greener practices in the construction and maintenance of its office buildings. However, he didn’t give any specifics as to what those standards should be.

Finally, he offered an ambitious plan to require all civilian vehicles purchased by the federal government — 60,000 annually — to be "flex-fuel capable, plug-in hybrid or cars fueled by clean natural gas."

The obvious problem is that a very limited number of models of plug-ins and natural-gas powered cars are currently available, and the United States has been slow to embrace flex-fuel technology — cars that can run on multiple fuels alone or in combination, like gasoline or ethanol. McCain, in his speech yesterday in Fresno, Calif., pointed to Brazil as an example of a country that made a rapid transition to a flex-fuel automotive infrastructure and said the United States should emulate this. Of course, if Washington did institute such a policy, Detroit would have a big incentive to develop the technology and produce the cars. In his speech yesterday, McCain briefly mentioned Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards — implying that existing regulations need to be enforced more aggressively, but stopping short of calling for higher standards, as he has in the past.

Schwarzenegger, a vocal proponent of increased federal action on climate change, opposes McCain’s plan to lift the federal moratorium on offshore oil exploration. This made Santa Barbara an interesting choice for their joint appearance. As The Los Angeles Times notes, the city was the site of a massive oil spill in 1969, " when an offshore platform ruptured and released 3 million gallons of oil. About 35 miles of Southern California coastline were soaked with oil and tar." Many activists today point to the spill as one of the BIG eye-opening events that spurred the modern environmental movement.

It will be interesting to see if McCain continues to press green issues in states other than California, where environmentalists abound. McCain was greeted this morning by about 100 environmental protesters.

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