Primary Color

Forget red and blue—this presidential race is all about the green. In an exclusive report from Outside and,ANDA GRISCOM LITTLE checks in with the leading contenders to discover who's eco-cool and who's full of hot air.

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No, you’re not hallucinating.

Can't Get Enough?

Read all of Amanda Griscom Little’s conversations with the contenders—including Joe Biden, Sam Brownback, and others.

The presidential candidates—most of them, anyway—are actually talking about the environment this time around. Chalk it up to rising gas prices, a growing interest in energy independence, and, yes, ubiquitous Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. Credit California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Montana governor Brian Schweitzer, too, for proving that progressive environmental policies really can pave the way to election victory—no matter which party you’re in.

Just how green are the 2008 contenders? Outside‘s Amanda Griscom Little spent the past several months finding out. Our guide to the candidates comes direct from her exclusive interviews with every one of the Democrats and most of the Republicans. GOP front-runners Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson turned down her repeated requests for interviews, so we relied on campaign-trail statements and press coverage to suss out their environmental agendas. (Sorry, fellas, the issue is too important to let you off the hook.)

Voters often call the environment one of their biggest concerns, then fail to back that up at the polls. If you mean it this time, an informed decision starts right here.

Hillary Clinton

The Workhorse

Hillary Clinton, eco-warrior? Not quite, but the New York senator does have a long, diverse environmental record that’s nearly bulletproof. “Our values demand that we be good stewards of the planet for our children and our children’s children,” Clinton said in May 2006. “We are failing that simple moral test if we stand by while the earth warms.”

Battle Cry: “The Bush administration has reversed decades of progress on the environment,” Clinton tells Outside. “As president, I would restore these protections. I would tell my EPA administrator to protect the environment instead of polluters.”

Green Chops: Since 2000, Clinton has spearheaded or co-signed nearly 400 environment-related bills, promoting issues from brownfield redevelopment to national-forest protection. “I’ve taken many actions specific to New York, like pushing for the Hudson River cleanup by GE and tackling the toxic legacy of 9/11,” she says. “As First Lady, I focused on the environment’s effects on children’s health.”

Power Points: “The country that split the atom and put a man on the moon can take the oil out of our tanks,” she says on a campaign Web site podcast. Clinton proposes yanking oil-industry subsidies and depositing the savings (she estimates $50 billion over the next ten years) into a Strategic Energy Fund used to develop solar, wind, clean-coal, and nuclear power. Her Green Building Fund would bankroll energy-efficiency upgrades in schools and libraries to the tune of a billion bucks a year.

Outside Moment:
After graduating from Wellesley College in 1969, she “spent a summer in Alaska, washing dishes at a lodge in Mount McKinley [now Denali] National Park and sliming salmon in Valdez.” Clinton returned to Alaska in 2005 to size up climate impacts on the state.

Eco-Hero: Al Gore. “I may not agree with everything he proposes, but he has never given up on his climate mission.”

Hmmm: “It’s time to stop federal funding of oil industries, once and for all!” she’s said at several campaign rallies. Yet Clinton has accepted more campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries—a total of $151,950 as of October—than any other Democratic candidate.

John McCain

The Conservative Conservationist

In 2004, Arizona senator McCain famously called the Bush administration’s lack of climate-change policy “disgraceful.” Today, as one of the few Republican candidates backing mandatory caps on greenhouse-gas emissions, he vows to make global warming a key issue if elected.

Battle Cry: “We can address global-warming issues through free-enterprise-system-driven green technologies. GE dedicated itself to green technologies, and guess what: They’re still making a lot of money.”

Green Chops: McCain partnered with Democratic senator Joe Lieberman to sponsor the 2003 Climate Stewardship Act, the first Senate bill to call for mandatory greenhouse-gas limits. Since 2004, he’s visited Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Alaska, which he calls “the miners’ canaries, visible manifestations of the tremendous harm that global warming has done.” McCain is the only GOP candidate actively opposed to drilling in ANWR.

Power Points: He would end subsidies for fossil-fuel industries and let the markets work in favor of renewable energy.

Outside Moment:
“Last year, my son Jack and I hiked the Grand Canyon, rim to rim. It wasn’t the first time.”

Eco-Hero: Morris and Stewart Udall, former Arizona congressmen (and Dems). “Mo, who was incredibly effective at getting environmental protections through Congress, and his brother Stew, who was U.S. secretary of the interior for eight years, were two of the great environmentalists of the 20th century.”

Hmmm: If elected, he’s said he’ll repeal the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which bans logging and new-road construction on 58.5 million acres of national forest and grasslands.

Barack Obama

The Consensus Builder

“Businesses don’t own the sky … and if we want them to stop polluting it, we have to put a price on all pollution,” Obama told voters in October. The first-term senator from Illinois is known as a team player, advancing a middle-of-the-road agenda with partners in the GOP. But in October he busted out a bold clean-energy platform that won praise from fellow Dems and green leaders.

Battle Cry: “Some of [my environmental] policies are difficult politically,” he said recently. “But being president of the United States isn’t about doing what’s easy. It’s about doing what’s right.”

Green Chops: He’s played tough with Detroit, in May calling carmakers’ current path “unacceptable and unsustainable.” He partnered with Republican senators—and fellow Democratic candidate Joe Biden—to sponsor the Fuel Economy Reform Act of 2007, calling for a 4 percent annual increase in fuel-economy standards.

Power Points: Like most of the Democratic candidates, Obama backs cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050, and he has an ambitious cap-and-trade program to get there. “It is going to require a thoughtful approach that accounts for the possibility that electricity prices will go up and low-income people [will need to be] compensated,” he says. He vows to make us 50 percent more energy efficient by 2030 and require a quarter of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025.

Outside Moment:
“I have fond memories of visiting Yellowstone as a kid—marveling at the scenery, chasing after bison.”

Eco-Hero: Rachel Carson.

Hmmm: In January, he cosponsored a bill that would fund the development of alternative fuels from coal—which thrilled mining interests in Illinois but incensed eco-activists. In June, Obama backtracked, refusing to support any similar plans unless they include adequate environmental safeguards.

Ron Paul

The Free-Marketer

“The reliance on the government to devise an energy policy is a fallacy,” says this libertarian-leaning congressman from Texas, who considers the EPA pointless (but says dissolving it wouldn’t be first on his presidential agenda). Paul’s prescription for the planet: “a free-market system and a lot less government.”

Battle Cry: “Private property owners have a record of taking care of the environment much better than governments have ever done. Look at the Communists—they were very poor environmentalists.”

Green Chops: One of the Republican party’s most outspoken critics of the war in Iraq, Paul argues that “war causes pollution and excess expenditures in burning of fuel for no good purpose.” He has cosponsored legislation offering tax breaks to bike commuters.

Power Points: Would end subsidies to energy industries, from oil to solar, and government support of alternative-energy innovation. “The government shouldn’t be directing research and development, because they always misdirect it [and] send the money to the political cronies,” he says. Paul has cosponsored bills offering tax incentives for the production and purchase of solar, wind, biomass, and fuel-cell energy.

Outside Moment:
“My favorite thing is riding bicycles,” says Paul. “I don’t ride my bike because I think I’m destroying the environment by driving my car. It’s just a great way to be outdoors.”

Eco-Hero: “Nobody in particular.”

Hmmm: Paul believes that parklands, wilderness preserves, and national monuments should be privately owned. He also says that global warming trends “come and go” and shouldn’t raise alarm: “I think war and financial crises and big governments coming and marching into our homes—those are immediate [concerns] that are going to affect us a lot sooner than the temperature going up.”

Mike Huckabee

The Faithful Moderate

Huckabee, Arkansas governor from 1996 to 2007, is known more for his fitness transformation—he dropped 110 pounds in two years and has run four marathons—than his environmental platform. But this ordained Southern Baptist minister has strong environmental views and often uses his faith to support them.

Battle Cry: “Not only as a Republican, but as a Christian, it’s important to me to say to my fellow believers, ‘Look, if anybody ought to be leading on the environment, it ought to be us.'”

Green Chops: Huckabee vows to achieve energy independence by the end of his second term. “A country is not free if it can’t produce three things for itself—its own food, its own fuel, and its own fighting apparatus,” he says. In 1996, he helped pass an Arkansas constitutional amendment imposing an eighth-of-a-cent conservation sales tax to benefit natural resources.

Power Points: “I don’t think we’re going to find one big answer. I think it’s going to be a combination of many that will include hydrogen, solar, wind, nuclear, and domestically produced fossil fuels.” Like most other GOP contenders, he’d open ANWR and the continental shelf to drilling and supports a major nuclear-energy expansion. “France is almost completely nuclear, and it’s not like they’re a nation given to risky behaviors.”

Outside Moment:
On a 2002 canoe trip on Arkansas’s Buffalo National River, Huckabee spotted some guys using a slingshot to launch beer cans across the water. “I said, ‘The penalty for this crime is $1,000. You’ve got two choices: You either go over there and pick up those cans, or I’m going to make sure that you get the full extent of the law.”

Eco-Hero: Teddy Roosevelt.

Hmmm: “The first thing I would do as president is submit my energy-independence plan to Congress,” says Huckabee. The specifics? He’s not sure yet.

Bill Richardson

The Statesman

“It’s going to take an ‘energy president’ to lead this country, and I’m the man for the job,” says New Mexico governor Richardson. Indeed, the man who served as President Clinton’s secretary of energy has been serving up some of the most creative green ideas yet.

Battle Cry: “I believe very strongly in what John F. Kennedy asked all Americans to do—sacrifice a little bit for the collective good. It’s in our national interest to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.”

Green Chops: In 2004, Richardson and California’s Schwarzenegger laid the groundwork for the Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative, which promotes clean energy in 19 western states. If elected, Richardson would pursue national light-rail and bullet-train systems and create a new cabinet position, secretary of water, to oversee drought and water-supply challenges.

Power Points: Calls for fuel-economy standards of 50 mpg by 2020 and a 90 percent reduction in national greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050; wants the country to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2040.

Outside Moment:
“Kicking around the mountains of northern New Mexico with my horse, Sundance, is my main recreational activity,” says Richardson.

Eco-Hero: Congressman Morris Udall, who represented Arizona from 1961 to 1991. “He was a western environmentalist,” says Richardson. “I patterned myself after him.”

Hmmm: Between 2001 and 2002, Richardson served on the boards of three North American oil companies: Diamond Offshore Drilling, Venoco Inc., and Valero Energy Corporation. He sold more than $100,000 in Valero stock in May 2007.

John Edwards

The Trendsetter

“If you want to know who’s most likely to lead in a serious way on the environment,” says Edwards,”look who’s been leading throughout the campaign.” A former North Carolina senator (and the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president), Edwards told Iowa voters last March that greening the United States won’t be easy, “but it’s time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than the war.”

Battle Cry: “The world is at crisis on the issue of climate change—it requires action now. And without American leadership, nothing will happen.”

Green Chops: In March, Edwards became the first candidate to commit to an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050 (a pledge later picked up by candidates Clinton and Obama.) He has demanded a freeze on all U.S. coal-plant development until we find the technology to burn coal with zero emissions.

Power Points: Proposed a plan last spring to auction off greenhouse-gas-pollution permits to help pay for a $13 billion-a-year New Energy Economy Fund, which will be invested in emerging clean-energy industries—a move he believes can create one million “green-collar” jobs by 2025. (Obama later adopted a similar program.)

Outside Moment:
Edwards climbed Kilimanjaro with his late son, Wade, in 1995. “Passing a love of the outdoors through generations is a great American tradition,” he says, “a powerful reminder of our obligation to act as stewards.”

Eco-Hero: “It’s a funny thing—today, I actually think it is Al Gore.”

Hmmm: Edwards sounds committed, but he showed little environmental leadership during his Senate career, from 1998 to 2004. His 28,200-square-foot home in Raleigh, North Carolina, though equipped with solar panels and other energy-efficient features, casts a long shadow over his conservation rhetoric.

Fred Thompson

The Skeptic

You know him as the ball-busting DA from NBC’s Law & Order. But Thompson’s political résumé includes roles as a senator from Tennessee (1994 to 2003) and as a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which has led the fight to discredit the scientific consensus on global warming.

Battle Cry: “Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever,” he said on ABC Radio’s Paul Harvey show in March. “Now scientists are also telling us that Mars is experiencing its own planetary warming … This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if [it is] inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle.”

Green Chops: Under increasing public scrutiny, Thompson seems to be shifting his stance on climate change. His campaign Web site reads, “It makes sense to take reasonable steps to reduce CO2 emissions without harming our economy.”

Power Points: “We’ve got to do a lot of different things well—renewables, alternatives, using energy sources we’ve got here already,” Thompson said in September. But by rapidly implementing a climate plan, “not only are we going to hurt our economy; it’s not going to do any good.”

Hmmm: During some 20 years as a part-time Washington lobbyist, he went to bat for the nuclear industry (pushing a failed nuclear plant that squandered roughly $1.7 billion taxpayer dollars). He reportedly earned more than $750,000 lobbying to help a British reinsurance company limit its liability in asbestos-poisoning lawsuits.

Note: This candidate did not respond to our queries, but we did our homework anyway.

Mitt Romney

The Question Mark

As governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, Romney took flak for flip-flopping on environmental policies—he committed to a landmark agreement among northeastern states to cut carbon emissions in 2005, for instance, then abruptly pulled out at the last minute. He promised to increase the amount and quality of open space in the state, but he never delivered. Romney’s shown similar patterns on the campaign trail, voicing some lofty aspirations without committing to specifics.

Battle Cry: “I don’t know how much of the [climate] change is due to human activity,” he said at a 2007 campaign rally in Iowa. “That’s why I’ll adopt what I call ‘no regrets’ policies—policies that will allow us to become energy independent and will have, as one of their by-products, a reduction of the CO2 that we emit.”

Green Chops: In 2004, Governor Romney introduced his Climate Protection Plan, which he said “encourages private citizens and requires state agencies and the state’s large businesses to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions,” although by an unspecified amount. He devised plans for energy-efficiency programs in state buildings and increased use of biofuels in the state’s vehicle fleet.

Power Points: In campaign speeches, Romney advocates boosting domestic oil drilling, including opening up ANWR, and using diesel and jet fuels derived from coal: “Hitler during the Second World War—I guess because he was concerned about losing his oil—liquefied coal. That technology is still there,” he said in a 2007 speech.

Hmmm: “It’s a must—we have to make our vehicles more fuel efficient,” Romney said in August. But so far he’s refused to back higher fuel-economy standards.

Note: This candidate did not respond to our queries, but we did our homework anyway.

Rudy Giuliani

The Skeptic

“America has to be energy independent,” the former New York City mayor told a crowd of Iowa voters in July. “Most people will say it’s impossible, but I’m very good at doing the impossible.” His game plan: ramping up domestic oil drilling and expanding the use of homegrown fuels like coal and nuclear power. “It’s absolutely necessary in defeating terrorism!” he said in another speech.

Battle Cry: “When I think of 20 to 30 million people coming out of poverty in India and China, I say to myself, That’s great—look at all the new customers. There are a lot of things we can sell to them—including energy independence.”

Green Chops: “We have to accept the view that scientists have that there is global warming and that human operations, human conditions contribute to that,” Giuliani has said. He supports subsidizing the development of energy sources such as wind and solar. He also touts the unfashionable idea of asking citizens to cut back on energy guzzling: “We have to convince the American people to conserve.”

Power Points: Like other GOP contenders, Giuliani backs nuclear power and ethanol and strongly supports King Coal. “America has more coal reserves than Saudi Arabia has oil reserves,” he said in July. “Aren’t we better off relying on our coal reserves than seeing that money going to the Middle East?”

Hmmm: Giuliani would end the 26-year-old moratorium on drilling off America’s coasts: “We have to expand the use of the oil that’s within our control,” he told voters in July. Meanwhile, he has no specific plan for reducing U.S. oil demands or limiting greenhouse-gas emissions.

Note: This candidate did not respond to our queries, but we did our homework anyway.