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Published July 22, 2008 11:53 AM

Obama Shifts Stance on Environmental & Climate Issues

By Ken Dilanian 

USA Today, July 17, 2008

WASHINGTON - In May 1998, at the urging of the state's coal industry, the Illinois Legislature passed a bill condemning the Kyoto global warming treaty and forbidding state efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. Barack Obama voted "aye."

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee now calls climate change "one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation," and proposes cutting carbon emissions 80% by 2050. But as a state senator, from 1997 to 2004, he usually supported bills sought by coal interests, according to legislative records and interviews.


Obama is not the only politician whose public stance has shifted on global warming, which a scientific consensus says has been caused chiefly by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas. Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, who now backs limits on carbon emissions, was among 95 U.S. senators who voted in 1997 to oppose the Kyoto Protocol, an emissions reduction scheme that had been negotiated by then-vice president Al Gore.

Still, Obama, who touts his independence from special interests, made a point of embracing the coal industry as part of his quest for statewide office. When he ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, he was flanked by mine workers to proclaim that "there's always going to be a role for coal" in Illinois.

"He understands how important coal is to the state of Illinois and to the Midwest," said Illinois state Rep. Dan Reitz, a Democrat and former coal miner who sponsored the anti-Kyoto language and campaigned for Obama during the West Virginia primary.

Employees of coal companies and electric utilities have contributed $539,597 to Obama's U.S. Senate and presidential campaign, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. McCain, whose energy plan calls for taxpayers to invest $2 billion in "clean coal" research that includes technology to capture carbon emissions, has received $402,365 from coal and utility interests during the same period, since 2004 to the current campaign, according to the center.

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