JOHN MCCAIN’S CONSERVATION LEGACY
By Rob Sisson and Gibson McKay
“I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also.” John McCain
Senator John McCain, did not take-up timid, trifling causes. Whether it was his vociferous fight for the line-item veto, campaign finance restructuring, immigration reform, anti-torture, healthcare repeals, or global conservation, we usually found him in the arena with his “dukes up.” These were and are some of the greater foundational issues that have shaped our national dialogue over his decades of service. He relished “daring greatly” for a “worthy cause.”
Much like his hero, President Theodore Roosevelt, who first protected the Grand Canyon as a national monument under the Antiquities Act, McCain’s passion for conservation welled up from his deep and abiding love of the outdoors. Whether grilling for the family, hiking near Cottonwood or protecting the splendor and grandeur of our Grand Canyon, he never ceased to marvel at the majesty of this natural world.
Throughout his decades of service, McCain fought to protect the park, one of our crown jewels, from incursion of development. This past April, the National Park Service and the Grand Canyon Association honored McCain and his longtime colleague, Morris Udall, with an installation near the South Rim of the Canyon. The inscription thanks them for “faithful stewardship of the Grand Canyon”.
In addition to their work with National Parks, Udall and McCain worked together to protect more than 3 million acres of Arizona wilderness. It is easy to see that John McCain saw our public lands as cathedrals where an individual could commune with the Creator.
Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions credit McCain with “a clean energy legacy that will protect the natural environment and strengthen the nation’s economy for future generations.” As late as 2017, the Senator pushed amendments to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill that will help reclaim nearly a billion acre feet of water and help alleviate drought conditions suffered by Arizona cities and tribes.
If Congress ever wishes to seriously address the searing issue of climate change, there is little doubt McCain’s shadow will loom over its deliberations. Last September, shortly after receiving his diagnosis, the Senator told CNN that it was time to seek “common-sense solutions” to climate change and that our global climate was being altered in “unprecedented” ways. He called for a greater reliance on solar power in Arizona, reminding the listener that his state had plenty of sunshine, and for nuclear energy to play a bigger role across the country.
During his 2000 presidential campaign, he continually heard about climate change from young people. When he came back to the Senate after his campaign ended, he was motivated to put the topic front and center. Within a year, he and his great friend, Joe Lieberman, had drafted the first bipartisan legislation to address climate change. The bill got to the Senate floor in 2003, but was defeated by a vote of 44-53. Even though the legislation failed, climate change as a major policy plank was firmly in the American lexicon. Over the intervening years, the Senate cajoled many of his colleagues to travel to Antarctica, the Arctic, and Greenland to witness first-hand the impact of a changing climate.
We stood witness to the Republican Party Platform approved at its St. Paul convention, when Senator McCain was formally nominated as the party’s candidate for president. That platform embraced making hard choices on climate change and dedicated a full page on environmental protection. The 2008 RNC platform reflected McCain’s belief that we must be responsible stewards and protect our air, water, land, and climate.
In May 2017, Senator McCain joined two Republican colleagues to keep the Bureau of Land Management from changing rules that would increase methane emissions from oil and gas exploration on public lands. Media reports heralded him for “bucking” his party on the vote. It is a stoic reminder McCain was rooted in the GOP’s great conservation legacy that began when Lincoln protected Yosemite.
John McCain will be remembered more for placing a greater value on a greater good and for putting country first. Nowhere is that more evident than the courageous stands he took, sometimes against his own party, than for his conservation accomplishments. Perhaps that is all we need from him—a hallowed reminder that our nation and its generations in the womb of time require from us wise stewardship of our environment and by trusting in the guiding hand that God bestows on this earth.