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McCain, Cap-and-Trade, and the Return of Nuclear Power

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Senator McCain laid out his program for addressing concerns over global warming in a speech in Oregon yesterday. The Oregonian reports on the key differences betwen McCain’s plan and Obama’s apprach:

The centerpiece of McCain’s approach to slowing global warming is a nationwide “cap-and-trade” system for reducing emissions — setting an overall pollution limit, then letting individual polluters buy and sell emissions allowances within that limit.

Political minefields

But in delivering his manifesto Monday, he also stepped directly on two of the biggest ideological land mines around global warming reductions. He endorsed nuclear power and proposed to crack down on China and India if they don’t adopt similar caps to control their accelerating emissions.

The full McCain speech is here.

Skeptics about any aspect of the global warming debate –the significance of the temperature rise, its origins, or the ability of humans to affect the temperature change– thus have a choice: A candidate with a plan that includes a push for nuclear energy and accountability for China and other rapidly industrializing countries, or a candidate who will push an America-first, only, and without nuclear power plan.

McCain has occupied the center on this debate, and the GOP and conservatives should get over it and begin working to keep enough Republican senators in place to assure that President McCain’s emphasis on a new generation of nuclear power plants becomes a reality, thus keeping cap-and-trade from becoming a suffocating blanket.

If cap-and-trade leads to the long overdue renaissance of nuclear power plant construction and generation in the U.S., it will have been a very good thing indeed. The long-term health of a growing American economy requires nuclear power, and McCain’s embrace of a renewed renewable energy policy with nuclear power at its center is the carrot that climate change skeptics need to work towards making the legislative scheme work. If the new law incentivizes nuclear power plant construction and —crucially— clears regulatory hurdles used by anti-nuke extremists to delay that construction– the plan could end up with large net energy gains even as it forces down greenhouse gas emissions.

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