Friday, September 19, 2008

Candidates on the ESA: McCain

We have been hearing constantly updated versions of the presidential candidates' positions on the economy, but what are their positions on ecosystems and the species that depend on them?

John McCain stood out among Republican primary candidates for the simple assertion that he believes in evolution, but how far does that understanding take him toward preservation of species? As portrayed in a recent High Country News article, McCain's early career in the Senate included some striking support of environmental goals -- such as protection of more than 200 million acres of Arizona wilderness.

More recently, however, the Senator has seen an increasing rift between himself and the conservation community, particularly for his stance in favor of a military base negatively impacting the San Pedro River (described as "one of North America's jewels of biodiversity" and "host[ing] the second-most biologically diverse array of mammals in the world, second only to the Costa Rican cloud forests"). The water conflicts of that area figured prominently in the facts underlying the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, National Association of Homebuilders v. Defenders of Wildlife.

In response to a League of Conservation Voters survey, McCain said "I would support reforms that maintain strong and responsible protection for threatened and endangered species and promote species recovery while bringing greater levels of cooperation, efficiency and cost-effectiveness to the effort" and encouraged "working proactively and cooperatively with private landowners to protect habitat in a way that enhances species while respecting property rights." Overall, the LCV gave McCain a score of 26 out of 100 for his lifetime environmental voting record.

While McCain may agree less with his running mate than with his opponent on the cause of climate change, his position on biodiversity protection is dotted with appeals to cost-effectiveness and property rights reminiscent of would-be ESA-reformers such as Richard Pombo. Cost-effectiveness and property rights are in no way anathema to biodiversity preservation, but they are loaded terms in this context.

At a minimum, McCain's record and statements on the ESA caution against viewing his recognition of evolution and the anthropogenic nature of climate change as a recipe for supporting the nation's key biodiversity law -- a law that seems to come under attack every few years by Congress, states, or the executive (including, notably, the vice president).

Hat Tip: ESA Blawg.

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