By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
ESTES PARK — Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, has always been known as a moderate politician.
Although his recent run for the presidency against President Barack Obama led McCain further to the right than he’d ever gone before, it didn’t take long for the four-term United States senator to get reoriented and resume taking a more moderate approach to many issues.
While visiting Rocky Mountain National Park on Monday with Sen. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs, as part of a tour of the American West the two are taking during the August recess, McCain declared that he believes unequivocally that global warming and climate change is occurring and that America’s pristine landscapes are being harmed as a result.
Many conservatives in America don’t believe that human technology is causing the Earth’s surface to heat up, and they have balked at Democratic efforts to enact legislation aimed at reducing the release of carbon releases into the atmosphere.
“I believe that climate change is real,” McCain said to a group of reporters after he took a short hike down a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park to inspect trees killed by pine-beetle infestation.
“All you have to do is look around and see all the trees that are dying because of the pine beetle (to see it),” McCain said. “I think every visit we have like today says that we need to take action to reduce greenhouse gasses — not only here, but around the world.”
The pine beetle pandemic in the Rocky Mountain West has been creating a growing sense of panic among many Coloradans and environmentalists for the past five to 10 years. The pine beetle, which is found naturally in lodgepole, ponderosa and evergreen pine trees, often kills the tree after inhabiting it for a season. For decades, cold winters would kill most of the beetle population before it could spread. But the West’s warming winters have allowed the pest to spread at an alarming rate, leaving entire forests brown instead of green.
McCain said he can’t support the Democratic cap-and-trade plan, which narrowly passed the House in July only to stall in the Senate. He said the measure has failed to progress because other senators share his belief that its cost in energy taxes aren’t justified by its projected impact on climate change.
McCain said the legislation also fails to embrace a cornerstone of clean energy production — nuclear power.
“I am absolutely convinced that nuclear power has to be included in (any plan),” McCain said. “And, quite frankly, I will not be a part of any (plan) that does not include it.”
Although the production of nuclear power emits no carbon into the atmosphere, and can be the most affordable form of energy creation, Democrats and environmentalists have opposed its development since a 1979 partial plant meltdown at Three-Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pa., destroyed public confidence in the safety of nuclear reactors near residential areas. Since then, very few domestic nuclear power plants have been constructed.
Udall, a first-term senator with a long history of opposing nuclear power while serving in the U.S. House, has recently changed his stance on the issue, and said he now believes nuclear power should be part of the climate change discussion.
“I agree with Senator McCain that nuclear has to be in the mix,” Udall said. “Some people may say that that is a changed view on (my) part — and it may be. But I believe if we are wanting to adequately address climate change, then we need to include nuclear power.”
After visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, McCain and Udall held a field hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks at the Estes Park Town Hall building. During the hearing, the two senators took testimony from climate change experts and policy makers, including former Colorado House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, who now serves as climate change coordinator for Gov. Bill Ritter.
Madden told the subcommittee that the bark beetle has been a major concern for the state and its residents and presents a graphic illustration of the impact of climate change on Colorado.
“Recent aerial survey data collected by the U.S. Forest Service… indicates that bark beetles and other diseases have killed more than 2.5 million acres of lodgepole, ponderosa and limber pine forests,” Madden said. “Clearly, something unusual is happening. Outbreaks of bark beetles in Colorado’s forests occur naturally and with some regularity, but the current infestation, which began approximately 10 years ago, is the largest in recorded history both in Colorado and in the Western United States.”
Although much of the day’s political discussions focused on the severity of climate change on Colorado, McCain did take one moment to crack a joke intended to hit home with many Coloradans. Before finishing his questions and statements to the subcommittee, McCain thanked the people of Colorado for one important Western resource.
“While I am here, I guess I should thank you, on behalf of the people of Arizona, for the water,” McCain said.
The room erupted in laughter.