On the Climate Bill Fence: How Sen. Graham Got There

by Bill Chameides | August 27th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 4 comments

From his public statements, Sen. Graham seems amenable to a cap-and-trade bill, but it would have to include several provisions not in the House bill.

The seventh in a series on what senators on the fence are thinking.

Lindsey Graham is not the kind of senator you would expect to find on the climate fence. He is a Republican who has voted with his party 92 percent of the time during this Congressional session. Yet there he is.

Graham recognizes the problem of global warming. In November 2006 after the Republican routing in the midterm elections, Graham outlined a “roadmap for Republicans to reconnect with voters.” Among his reconnection points was addressing climate change: “Global climate change is real and nuclear energy, hydrogen, and other alternative sources of energy provide us an opportunity to address both national security and environmental concerns.”

Graham the ‘Maverick’?

Any Senate Republican voting in favor of climate legislation this year would have to be something of a maverick.

Senators Sitting on the Climate Bill Fence Series
Lamar Alexander (R-TN) »
Evan Bayh (D-IN) »
Sherrod Brown (D-OH) »
Robert Casey (D-PA) »
Kent Conrad (D-ND) »
Byron Dorgan (D-ND) »
Russ Feingold (D-WI) »
Al Franken (D-MN) »
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Tim Johnson (D-SD) »
Carl Levin (D-MI) »
Dick Lugar (R-IN) »
John McCain (R-AZ) »
Arlen Specter (D-PA) »
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) »

Though Graham’s voting record is conservative, and there is that 92 percent statistic of voting with his party, he has recently stepped out on a very high profile issue. Earlier this summer, while more than seventy-five percent of Senate Republicans voted against President Obama’s choice for a Supreme Court justice, Sen. Graham, the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee to support her, voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor.

Could climate change be another issue on which Graham decides to “step out” and vote with the Democrats?? His statements on global climate change being “real” suggest that it could happen. But his voting record suggests otherwise.

Graham’s Voting Record on Climate Change

It’s a pretty consistent record of “no’s” to any mandatory system of emission cuts.

  • In 2003 he voted against the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.
  • In 2005 he voted against the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act.

In 2005, though, he voted for Sen. Hagel’s amendment [pdf] calling for voluntary (not mandatory) reductions of greenhouse gas emission, and he voted against Sen. Inhofe’s move to table Sen. Bingaman’s amendment [pdf] to the energy bill calling for action on climate. This nonbinding resolution, which passed in the Senate by a voice vote, put on the record, for the first time, a majority of the Senate recognizing the need to mandate a cap on America’s global warming pollution. But then Graham voted against Sen. Kerry’s nonbinding Sense of the Senate resolution on climate change.

Another exception was last summer’s non-vote on the cloture motion to close debate and allow a Senate vote on the 2008 climate bill. A signal of a change?  Maybe, but it appears that there is a pretty high hurdle for an actual “yes” vote.

Is Nuclear Power the Key?

Graham, the first Republican ever to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina’s 3rd District and the successor to the conservative U.S. senator Strom Thurmond, hails from the Palmetto State, home to the Savannah River Site, a Department of Energy site dating from the cold war that specializes in the “safe, secure, cost-effective management of … nuclear materials.”

South Carolina gets more than half of its power from the state’s four nuclear power plants. And plans are in the works for four new nuclear reactors to go online by 2015.

Not surprisingly then, nuclear energy along with economic security appears to be the linchpin for Graham’s support of a climate bill.

Listen to WVOC’s interview with Sen. Graham »

In a radio interview given in June shortly after the House passed the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, Graham detailed what he didn’t like in the House bill.

“You cannot solve climate change without producing electricity that’s clean for the environment and there is nothing new in this bill for nuclear power, and nuclear power is the way to produce energy without polluting the environment.”

Graham Finds a Lot Not to Like in Democratic Climate Proposals

Earlier in the year Graham expressed disappointment in Obama’s roadmap for climate. “The climate change proposal in the president’s budget would create a massive tax increase on every American,” said Graham. “We can deal with climate change without imposing a $3,000 per household energy tax on the families of America that are already having a hard time paying the bills.”

In the radio interview with WVOC Graham predicted that the House bill will be “dead” on arrival in the Senate: “We will kill this bill because the cap-and-trade bill the House created would be $800 per family in this country. It would put business at a disadvantage vis-a-vis China and India, and it doesn’t do anything long term to clean up the environment.”

If you’re wondering where Graham got that $800 per family figure, so was I. The Congressional Budget Office projected a cost of only $175 per household. Apparently, he added in the effective costs of a half of one percent slowdown in GDP growth.

In addition to the absence of $’s for nuclear power and concerns about costs, Graham is also not pleased with what he perceives as the politics-as-usual at play in the House passage of Waxman-Markey.

“[The Democrats] got 219 votes. You need 218 to pass a bill. They had 44 Democrats vote against this bill. They broke heads and twisted arms to get that last vote just like Tom Delay used to do. There’s no new business being done in Washington. This is the same old pay-people-off system, beat ‘em up to try to vote your way and this is not bipartisanship.”

And Yet…

Despite the imperfections he sees in the House bill and the way it was passed, Graham recognizes the problem of global warming and seems prepared to pass legislation dealing with it.

In March 2009, he gave a nod on the Senate floor to the successful cap-and-trade program that helped curb acid rain and linked it to addressing global warming:

“Acid rain … was a reality. You could see it in the Southeast … and it was a cap-and-trade system, a new technology, that solved that problem. So it’s not much of a stretch to me that the CO2 carbon emissions that we’re putting into our environment from transportation and power production is heating up the planet.”

And in June he said, “I believe climate change is real. … Find more and use less is sort of a theory that I have: … we need to find more natural resources here in America, we need to use less fossil fuel, and we need nuclear power and we need a cap and trade system that won’t put America out of business.”

So it does appear that Graham is open to passing climate change legislation. We’ll have to wait and see if his idea of acceptable legislation can be reconciled with that of at least 59 other senatorial colleagues.

filed under: climate bill fence, climate change, faculty, global warming, policy, politics
and: , , , , , ,


All comments are moderated and limited to 275 words. Your e-mail address is never displayed. Read our Comment Guidelines for more details.

  1. MattN
    Oct 14, 2009

    As soon as the emerging opinion that CO2 has not actually caused any significant climate change, ever, we can get on with the task of dealing with real problems.

  2. Fran Manns
    Oct 13, 2009

    Remember the lesson of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”. The assumption that there is or ever will be man-made climate change (remember the Orwellian global warming?) is the big dead elephant in the room. I think all the politicians on the bandwagon need to be replaced by public servants who can objectively evaluate scientific and technical data. The backlash will be swift.

    • Bill Chameides
      Oct 19, 2009

      Fran, I wonder if you remember “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” In the end the boy cried, “Wolf, wolf.” There really was a wolf, but no one came and all the sheep were run off.

  3. Chris Hagin
    Aug 29, 2009

    Even if Senator Graham wants to do something about climate change, he would be better off proposing an alternative to the Waxman-Markey bill which includes propositions for real alternatives to coal: nuclear power being on the top of the list. As the current bill stands, there is little hope for change except for an energy cost spike to American consumers. The majority-coal producing states will be out of the loop in a cap and trade system. This system will place an implicit tax burden upon energy consumers with no tangible benefits. It is simply a tax on energy consumption unless there is infrastructure in place to replace it. For much of the US energy market, there isn’t a short-term development plan in place for non-coal power.

©2015 Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University | Box 90328 | Durham, NC 27708
how to contact us > | login to the site > | site disclaimers >

footer nav stuff