"Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country." - Richard Nixon in his State of the Union Address on Jan. 22, 1970, three months before 20 million Americans took part in the first Earth Day.
Does it matter that neither Barack Obama nor John McCain is a slam dunk for the environmental vote?
At first glance, Mr. Obama appears to have a lock on it - at least in the Great Lakes region. Being from Illinois, he's one of us. He even pledged $5 billion to get a $20 billion Great Lakes restoration plan moving. That, of course, was before the world's financial markets went kaput.
David Jenkins of Republicans for Environmental Protection summed the situation up well at the recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Roanoke, Va., when he said conservatives need to embrace the conservation ethic of Republican Teddy Roosevelt, whom many view as our nation's first true environmental president.
He also said they need to disassociate themselves from the "irresponsible rants by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter."
"If we're to consistently improve the quality of our environment in the long term, environmental issues need to become less polarized," Mr. Jenkins said. "More blue doesn't mean more green."
America has come full circle and taken a harder look at energy and the environment, just like it did in 1970. Yet those issues were nonexistent during the primaries. They took off after gasoline surpassed the $4-a-gallon mark this summer.
Mr. McCain called for the Outer Continental Shelf's 30-year drilling ban to be lifted. He called for 45 more nuclear plants by 2030, though - at a cost of $10 billion to $15 billion per plant for an industry that's never built one without massive federal subsidies - the taxpayer burden has never been fully explored.
The New York Times, which also has been campaigning for more nukes, took Mr. Obama to task in a front-page article Feb. 8. It claimed he didn't live up to his bravado after vowing to get tough with utilities following the 2004 discovery of radioactive tritium leaks at Exelon's Braidwood power station some 60 miles southwest of Chicago. The newspaper said his bill fizzled, giving way to a voluntary reporting program pushed by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's chief lobbyist group on Capitol Hill.
The nation's latest episode with tritium leakage is at FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse nuclear plant 30 miles east of Toledo, where workers stumbled upon the problem Oct. 22 only because a cracked drainage pipe passed through an area where they had been inspecting fire-suppression equipment.
Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain both vow to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, whether more nuclear's in the mix or not. They favor a cap-and-trade program in which utilities would have a greater incentive to be efficient. Mr. Obama is seeking an 80 percent reduction in those emissions over 1990 levels by 2050, while Mr. McCain endorses a 60 percent reduction.
For what it's worth, the League of Conservation Voters (www.lcv.org) just issued its latest environmental scorecard. Campaigning apparently kept Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain from voting on 11 key environmental Senate bills the group identified. It claims Mr. Obama has voted pro-environment 72 percent of the time during his short career in the Senate, while Mr. McCain has voted pro-environment only 24 percent of the time during his long tenure there.
Mr. Nixon said in his 1970 speech that clean air, clean water, and open spaces "should once again be the birthright of every American."
Will they be under the next presidency?
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