- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have called for strict mandatory limits to control greenhouse gases but they aren’t leading by example — each has failed to pay for offsets to cover all of his campaign’s carbon emissions.

Campaign finance records for 2007 show that neither of the two leading presidential candidates has spent money to independently cover his campaign’s “carbon footprint” — the amount of carbon emissions emitted by the planes and vehicles the candidates and their staffs use for travel, or by the computers and headquarters needed to run a presidential campaign.

Though both campaigns say they practice energy conservation, Mr. Obama offsets only some of his airplane flight emissions, while Mr. McCain doesn’t cover even that.

“They clearly should be not only buying these ration coupons, or indulgences, but they should be massively reducing their footprint,” said Christopher Horner, author of the “Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming.” “The fact that they’re out front on [global warming] is where their troubles start.”

By contrast, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, has made monthly payments to offset her campaign’s “carbon footprint.”

The concept is simple: Businesses and individuals can pay a company to plant trees or fund projects that produce lower amounts of greenhouse gases. The goal is “carbon neutrality,” or paying for enough offsets to cover your own emissions, and it’s catching on from rock bands to Congress. Even parts of the Academy Awards went carbon-neutral last year.

But presidential campaigns are having a tougher time.

Six months ago, Mr. McCain’s campaign said it was preparing to reduce its net carbon output. Spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan told The Washington Times that McCain staffers had asked for a company to study the campaign’s carbon footprint and suggest offsets.

“They’re right in the middle of it, so we look forward to hearing the outcomes of this study,” she said in August.

Yesterday, though, spokesman Brian Rogers said that was a mistake, and the study fell by the wayside a month earlier during a July staff shake-up.

“We were in negotiations for study but in the chaos of last summer, the staff in charge of it left, and it was not picked back up,” Mr. Rogers said.

Even some campaigns that started with the best of intentions fell short in execution, stopping payments when their cash flow tightened.

John Edwards, one of the earliest candidates to commit to offsets, paid $21,997 last year to Native Energy, a Vermont-based company, according to Federal Election Commission reports. His most recent payment was made July 11, six months before his campaign ended.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, another candidate who made an offsets pledge, recorded his last payment to Carbon Fund in September, more than two months before he dropped out of the race.

“I’m sure that a number of the candidates saw offsets as a good way to show leadership by example, but when confronted with the cold reality of a cash crunch, offsets are one of the first things to go,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

He said offsets are probably well-intentioned, but are not an overall solution to climate change nor the best way to gauge a campaign’s commitment to addressing global warming.

Mr. Horner, a critic of environmentalists’ global warming solutions, said campaigns that abandoned their pledges showed that their commitment “was a stunt, not a belief.”

He said offsets are “climatically meaningless,” and that the programs funded through offsets are often not transparent or verifiable.

Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain have called for cap-and-trade schemes that would set a limit for carbon emissions and allow companies to trade credits among themselves. Mrs. Clinton takes advantage of a similar offsets market.

Mrs. Clinton spent $20,327 last year with Native Energy, making regular payments including one of $4,743 in December. At $12 per metric ton, that December figure would give her a monthly carbon output of less than 400 metric tons, or about 20 times the average U.S. home’s total for a year.

Still, that was smaller than what Mr. Edwards produced. During four months, he made payments averaging more than $5,000, or an acknowledged carbon footprint of at least 450 metric tons per month.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to several e-mails and phone calls seeking comment.

Although Mr. Obama doesn’t purchase independent offsets for commercial flights, automobiles and campaign headquarters energy use, his campaign pays its charter company, Missouri-based Air Charter Team, to offset the costs of his charter flights.

Last year, Mr. Obama recorded $4.3 million in costs with Air Charter, though only a tiny fraction of that would have gone to offsets.

Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, said the campaign takes other steps, such as use of fluorescent light bulbs, energy-efficient computers and copiers, and 40 percent post-consumer recycled copy paper.

He said the campaign draws the shades on its buildings’ west, south and east sides to reduce the need for extra air conditioning; encourages conference calls to reduce travel; follows a policy against reimbursing for taxi fares to encourage use of public transportation; and requests flex-fuel vehicles for staffers’ travel.

“Finally, the campaign’s main Web site, barackobama .com, encourages e-mail over traditional mail to contact us, which eliminates the carbon footprint of the delivery. We use primarily electronic communications to circulate information amongst the staff and send nationwide invitations and promotional materials via e-mail, eliminating paper use and the carbon emissions associated with delivery,” Mr. Vietor said.

On the McCain campaign, Mr. Rogers said staffers were working to improve energy efficiency in their building. “[Air conditioning] and heat is not running when we’re not here, trying to shut off the lights, turn off computers at night,” he said.

If Mr. McCain wins the nomination, he said, the campaign will take another look at steps to take, including “the possibility of offsets.”

“It will all be determined by whoever comes back with recommendations and what steps we can practically take as a campaign to reduce our footprint,” he said.

He also said Mr. McCain deserves credit for his policy leadership.

“We think that the senator’s longtime commitment and advocacy for a real market-based program that can address our carbon emissions in a market-based way speaks for itself,” he said. “The fact that we are even engaged in this discussion is a step forward.”

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