Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Sabrina  Eaton
By Sabrina Eaton September 13, 2010

Democratic Rep. John Boccieri invokes GOP Sen. John McCain to back his cap-and-trade stance

Democratic Rep. John Boccieri has taken heat from Republicans ever since his 2009 vote for a House energy bill that would establish a "cap and trade" system designed to reduce emission of the greenhouse gasses thought to cause global warming.

The system would impose a government cap on allowable emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. Companies that emit carbon dioxide, like electric utilities, would either have to reduce emissions by using cleaner technology, or purchase credits to allow continued emissions. Either way, the cost likely would be passed along to consumers. Critics of the program have said it would be particularly harmful in Ohio, where a high proportion of electricity is derived from coal-burning power plants that would be most affected by the proposed law.

Groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee have criticized Boccieri for his vote, placing ads in his district that say the system amounts to a nationwide electricity tax that would drive up the nation’s electricity rates.

Boccieri, from Alliance, Ohio, has repeatedly said that he favored the bill because it would create renewable energy jobs in his district that can’t be shipped overseas, and would protect national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil from unstable regions like the Middle East.

During an interview Aug. 18, he stated the "cap and trade" concept was originally a Republican idea, and expressed frustration with the GOP’s current opposition.

"Only in Washington can you propose an idea, introduce legislation and then campaign against it," Boccieri said. "I don’t understand what Republicans are doing against this. It was their idea. John McCain introduced cap and trade legislation three times."

Boccieri is correct that the "cap and trade" concept was pioneered by Republicans.

MIT economics professor Richard Schmalensee and Harvard Kennedy School government professor Robert Stavins noted in July that Ronald Reagan used a "cap-and-trade" system to phase out leaded gasoline and George H.W. Bush established a "cap-and-trade" system that reduced the sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain.

In 2003, McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat from Connecticut, introduced the "Climate Stewardship Act," which would have used a similar cap-and-trade approach to reduce carbon pollution linked to global warming. Versions of the bill were reintroduced in 2005 and 2007.

"The enormous economic costs of damage caused by air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions to the environment and human health are not factored into the price of power produced by fossil-fueled technologies," McCain said in a floor speech to mark the bill’s 2007 introduction. "Yet, it’s a cost that we all bear, too often in terms of ill-health and diminished quality of life."

McCain’s 2007 version was cosponsored by Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. And both McCain and Obama had cap-and-trade programs in their presidential platforms.

If cap-and-trade legislation was backed by the 2008 presidential contenders from both political parties, why hasn’t it been a shoo-in for implementation?

In short, working out the details has been complicated.

The carbon emissions that cause global warming behave differently in the atmosphere than the sulfur emissions that cause acid rain, making it harder to design a "cap-and-trade" program that will control them. The acid rain program created in the ‘90s "addressed a relatively small number of major sources that could comply simply by using off-the-shelf-technology. By contrast, carbon dioxide is emitted from sources throughout the economy and cannot be sufficiently addressed by technology currently at our disposal," Ohio GOP Sen. George Voinovich told National Journal’s Congress Daily.

Another culprit was legislative maneuvering by the lead sponsors of the House climate bill, Democrats Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Henry Waxman of California. As The New York Times put it, in order to gain passage for the bill  "a cornucopia of concessions and exemptions" were granted to "coal companies, utilities, refiners, heavy industry and agribusiness. The original simplicity was lost, replaced by a bazaar in which those with the most muscle got the best deals."

McCain’s staff did not respond to our request to discuss his stance on the House cap-and-trade bill that Boccieri supported. Until late August, McCain faced a tough primary battle against former GOP congressman J. D. Hayworth, who had criticized McCain’s support for cap-and-trade. Energy expert Frank Maisano said McCain has been silent on the issue recently, because of "political pressures he was getting from the right" during that campaign.

We find Boccieri’s statement that John McCain introduced cap and trade legislation three times to be True.

Featured Fact-check

Comment on this item.

Our Sources

Sen. John McCain’s April 21, 2009 speech to the Reform Institute National Energy Symposium

The Boston Globe, "The power of cap and trade," By Richard Schmalensee and Robert Stavins, July 27, 2010

The Plain Dealer, "Energy Policies of Barack Obama and John McCain overlap; differences are in priorities," by Sabrina Eaton, October 20, 2008

National Journal’s Congress Daily, "Cap-And-Trade Plan from ‘90s Prompts Some Comparisons," by Amy Harder, July 22, 2010.

The New York Times, "‘Cap and Trade’ Loses Its Standing as Energy Policy of Choice,"by John M. Broder, March 25, 2010.

E&E Daily, "Challenged back home on his right, McCain stays away from global warming bill," by Darren Samuelsohn, Feb. 10, 2010

Interview with Frank Maisano of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, Sept. 1, 2010

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Sabrina Eaton

Democratic Rep. John Boccieri invokes GOP Sen. John McCain to back his cap-and-trade stance

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up