Republican John McCain, reaching out to both independents and green-minded social conservatives, argued that global warming is undeniable and the country must take steps to bring it under control while adhering to free-market principles.
In remarks delivered Monday at a Portland, Ore., wind turbine manufacturer, the presidential contender said expanded nuclear power must be considered to reduce carbon-fuel emissions. He also set a goal that by 2050, the country will reduce carbon emissions to a level 60 percent below that emitted in 1990.
"For all of the last century, the profit motive basically led in one direction — toward machines, methods and industries that used oil and gas," said McCain.
"Enormous good came from that industrial growth, and we are all the beneficiaries of the national prosperity it built. But there were costs we weren't counting, and often hardly noticed. And these terrible costs have added up now, in the atmosphere, in the oceans and all across the natural world."
The Arizona senator promised to challenge China and India, two economic rivals who are fueling their challenge to U.S. market supremacy with heavily polluting fuels such as coal, gas and oil.
"For all of its historical disregard of environmental standards, it cannot have escaped the attention of the Chinese regime that China's skies are dangerously polluted, its beautiful rivers are dying, its grasslands vanishing, its coastlines receding and its own glaciers melting," said McCain.
He also took a swipe at President Bush, who balked at the beginning of its term at signing the Kyoto global warming protocols. McCain said he would return to the negotiating table.
"I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears. I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges. I will not accept the same dead-end of failed diplomacy that claimed Kyoto. The United States will lead and will lead with a different approach — an approach that speaks to the interests and obligations of every nation," he said.
The language highlighted the political stakes for McCain, his party's presumed nominee. His visit to Oregon came just days after the two leading Democratic contenders, Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, campaigned in the state.
Oregon is among the expected general election battlegrounds, and its Columbia and Hood rivers are playgrounds for many outdoorsmen and environmentalists.
Global warming also stands with abortion rights and an array of social causes as important issues to the evangelicals and Christian conservatives whom McCain hopes will bolster his political base this fall.
McCain has long expressed a belief in global warming, arguing that even if he is wrong, acting as if the planet's temperature were increasing would only benefit the environment if scientists subsequently proved he was mistaken.
McCain traveled to the Pacific Northwest from Arizona, where he and his family spent Mother's Day.
In his speech, he highlighted his personal experiences viewing evidence of glacial recession. He also cited evidence of a shift in animal migration patterns.
"You would think that if the polar bears, walruses, and sea birds have the good sense to respond to new conditions and new dangers, then humanity can respond as well," he said.
McCain's major solution is to implement a cap-and-trade program on carbon-fuel emissions, like a similar program in the Clean Air Act that was used to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions that triggered acid rain.
Industries would be given emission targets, and those coming in under their limit could sell their surplus polluting capacity to companies unable to meet their target.
McCain wants the country to return to 2005 emission levels by 2012; 1990 levels by 2020; and to a level sixty percent below that by 2050.
"As never before, the market would reward any person or company that seeks to invent, improve, or acquire alternatives to carbon-based energy," he said. "More likely, however, there will be some companies that need extra emissions rights, and they will be able to buy them. The system to meet these targets and timetables will give these companies extra time to adapt — and that is good economic policy."