According to the editorial, Barack Obama and John Edwards replied that they would grant the wavier. Hillary Clinton didn’t respond to the paper’s query, but the editors didn’t have to wait more than a day for her position. Last Thursday, Senator Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Environment and Public Works committee, introduced a bill that would overturn a recent Environmental Protection Agency decision to deny the waiver that would have allowed California to set its own automobile emissions standards. Among the legislation’s supporters? Clinton and Obama. “With global warming an increasingly important issue for voters, the two presidential candidates have moved almost in lock step to show their backing for policies favored by environmentalists,” wrote Siohban Hughes for Dow Jones Newswires.
Unfortunately, Dow Jones was one of only a few outlets that picked up the rather significant news. The Salem-News in Oregon (one of twelve states that have adopted California’s emissions standards), focused on Clinton’s objection to the EPA denying the state’s waiver. It quotes her saying that, “If President Bush refuses to lead, it is time for him to get out of the way.” Though nobody seems to have pointed it out, Clinton is obviously parroting the watershed moment during the Bali climate talks last month, when the representative from Papua New Guinea said:
I would ask the United States, we ask for your leadership. But if for some reason you’re not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.
That statement led the American delegation to reverse course and “join consensus” just moments later. Clinton, no doubt, hopes that echoing that pivotal moment will work similar magic for her.
It probably won’t, at least not until the general election. According to the Bee’s editorial, none of the Republican candidate’s have weighed in on California’s emissions waiver. The only one that would be likely to support it is McCain. If he ends up squaring off against Clinton or Obama, climate change might remain an indecisive issue for voters (though again, the general election will bring new pressures, particularly from coal, oil and gas interests). Last week, the Associated Press published an article headlined, “Republicans differ on global warming,” which hearkens back to a New York Times article from mid-October headlined, “Global Warming Starts to Divide GOP Contenders.” Both of these pieces would have been much more accurate with headlines such as, “McCain differs from other Republicans on Global Warming.”
This is doesn’t mean that California journalists should stop pressing candidates on specific questions, like the future of their emissions waiver, or that journalists in South Carolina journalists should stop asking black voters about their environmental concerns. These are exceptionally responsible acts of journalism that have grown frustratingly rare during these months of political popularity contest. What it means is that turning climate change into a front-burner campaign issue might require more than ambitious reporting; it might need some real, squabble-worthy disagreement among the candidates themselves.