By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The top Democratic presidential candidates and Republican John McCain are leading on the issue of energy security and climate change, a new environmental report said on Tuesday.
McCain, who has sponsored a bill to curb greenhouse emissions, "is far and away the (Republican) candidate most committed to addressing global warming and the nation's energy challenges," the League of Conservation Voters said in its 2008 guide to the U.S. presidential primaries.
But while leading his closest rivals for the Republican nomination, the Arizona senator is far behind all Democratic contenders in the league's lifetime ratings and even trails Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has an enthusiastic Internet backing but registers low in national polls.
Democrats Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson have all been vocal boosters of plans to cut climate-warming pollution, though Edwards came out with his plan first, the league's president, Gene Karpinski, said.
Among the Democratic candidates, Obama scored a 96 for his lifetime voting record on the environment; Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio scored 92; Clinton, 90; Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, 84; Richardson, 82; Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, 77, and Edwards, 59.
By contrast, McCain was ahead of the leading Republican candidates with a score of 26. Other candidates who are doing well in national polls -- former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- registered no score on the league's rankings because they have no voting record on the environment.
Paul had a score of 30 while former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee scored 12.
VOTER MANDATE ON CLIMATE CHANGE
Karpinski said it is important that candidates articulate their positions on global warming on the campaign trail, "so whoever gets elected and goes into the White House in 2009 will have a clear mandate from the voters to take action ... immediately upon taking office."
The voter guide, available online at www.lcv.org/voterguide, was released three days after the conclusion of a marathon meeting in Bali, Indonesia, to set up a "roadmap" for negotiations to deal with climate change after the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.
The United States is the only major developed nation not to join the Kyoto pact, but agreed in Bali to be part of the negotiations to create a successor to it by 2009. Most policymakers believe no carbon-capping bill will become U.S. law before President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009.
Karpinski stressed the need for action within the next two or three years, and said the U.S. president could be a critical piece of the solution to this problem.
Asked whether U.S. voters care enough about climate change to make it a priority for candidates, Karpinski said that when it is linked to energy security, it becomes a top-tier issue.
"Historically, the sense is voters support the policies but it's not a priority," he said. "I think what's different about this year is, if you put the question the right way, it clearly is a top priority for voters."
He said Clinton, Obama, Edwards and Richardson among the Democrats discuss the issue with voters on a daily basis, as does McCain.
"Because they talk to voters every day, they know what the voters are wanting to hear and that's why they've chosen to make this a top priority as well," he said. (Editing by David Wiessler)