(CNSNews.com) - A group of Republicans who promote stewardship of the environment turned up the heat on one of its allies in the climate change debate Thursday when it accused the Sierra Club of "stooping to a partisan smear campaign" against the "record and good name" of likely GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP), which describes itself as "a national grassroots conservation organization," accused the Sierra Club of deliberately using "misleading, over-the-top attacks" to distort the senator's record on the environment.
"We are greatly disappointed that the leaders of one of America's great conservation organizations have soiled its legacy by stooping to a partisan smear campaign against Sen. McCain's record and good name," REP President Martha Marks said in a press release.
"The recent barrage of inflammatory rhetoric distorting the senator's environmental record should dispel any pretense that the leaders of the Sierra Club are non-partisan," she stated.
Marks noted that during the past two weeks the liberal group has issued two press releases and sent at least four emails to its members attacking McCain for his rating of 0 in the 2007 National Environmental Scorecard released by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).
In a Feb. 21 letter, the Sierra Club said that "McCain was the only member of Congress to skip every single crucial environmental vote scored by the organization, posting a score lower than members of Congress who were out for much of the year due to serious illnesses - and even lower than some who died during the term.
"By contrast, the average member of Congress scored a 53 in 2007," the letter stated. In addition, "McCain posts a lifetime score of only 24."
"McCain's LCV score exposes the real record behind the rhetoric: a lifetime pattern of voting with polluters and special interests instead of consumers and the planet when it comes time to stand up and be counted," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director. "Or perhaps worse yet: a consistent refusal to stand up and be counted at all."
"Nothing could be further from the truth," David Jenkins, REP government affairs director, responded in Thursday's statement.
"The Sierra Club appears to have let blind partisanship trump honest advocacy," he added. "I find it particularly telling that the Sierra Club's attacks started at the same time that Sen. McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination.
"McCain has a record of taking on hard issues, fighting special interests, bucking party leaders and doing what's right regardless of the political consequences," said Jenkins.
"Sen. McCain has a long record of environmental accomplishments," the REP official added. "His leadership on the climate change issue is unequaled by any of the other presidential candidates."
The senator's campaign Web site states that McCain "has a proud record of common-sense stewardship. Along with his commitment to clean air and water, and to conserving open space, he has been a leader on the issue of global warming with the courage to call the nation to action on an issue we can no longer afford to ignore."
"As John McCain said, 'Americans solve problems. We don't run from them,'" the site adds. "He believes that ignoring the problem reflects a 'liberal live for today' attitude unworthy of our great country and poses a serious and unacceptable threat to our environment, our economy and U.S. national security."
'Swift boat-type partisan attacks'
Jenkins also checked the Sierra Club's press releases over the past year and found no similar attacks on Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for sponsoring an industry-backed bill providing incentives for liquefied coal or his vote opposing independent screening of Army Corps of Engineers water projects.
"Over the years, we have fought alongside the Sierra Club on a host of environmental issues," said REP Policy Director Jim DiPeso. "We have repeatedly defended the club against charges of partisanship. But these scurrilous assaults on Sen. McCain - who espouses the conservation ethic of Theodore Roosevelt - are indefensible."
Over the years, REP has endorsed McCain for president, in 2000 and during this year's race, as well as during a re-election campaign for his Arizona Senate seat in 2006.
Nevertheless, David Willett, national press secretary of the Sierra Club, told Cybercast News Service on Thursday that his organization stands behind all of the information in its news releases and e-mails because those statements have been based on McCain's voting record on the Senate.
However, Willett noted, candidates often say things on the campaign trail that don't match up with their records as elected officials.
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, REP noted this past May that Republicans in Congress showed a "marked improvement" when voting on environmental issues in 2006 compared to the year before.
And now, "having both a Republican and Democratic nominee for president who are good on the environment presents a great opportunity to make environmental issues more bipartisan," DiPeso added, "which makes it all the more disappointing that the Sierra Club has chosen instead to perpetuate the polarized atmosphere that has so often hurt our cause."
"Every candidate for president should have his or her environmental record held up to scrutiny, but these 'swift boat-type' partisan attacks are irresponsible," Marks said.
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