THE VINE JUNE 8, 2010
Once upon a time, Lindsey Graham was the great conservative hope for passing climate-change legislation. He helped draft a (decent, if imperfect) bill with John Kerry and Joe Lieberman. He gave a bunch of passionate speeches about the need to wean America off fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions. He took a lot of abuse from the Tea Party lunatics in his state but stood by the effort because, by all accounts, he thought it was an important cause worth fighting for. (And, for what it's worth, a lot of people who worked with him on this issue believed he was genuinely sincere.)
But that's all gone now. Graham's been edging away from the climate bill for months. First his excuse was that Harry Reid wanted the Senate to work on immigration, so there'd be no time to do a climate bill. Then, after Reid said energy would get top billing, Graham said, well, he still wouldn't co-sponsor the bill, but maybe he could vote for it as long as it contained support for offshore drilling. Then he wasn't even sure about that. And now, according to Congress Daily, Graham is bolting entirely:
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., today said he would vote against a climate change strategy he helped develop with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., citing new changes that further restrict offshore oil and gas drilling and the bill's impact on the transportation sector. ...
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill "marginalized" an initial section that he, Kerry and Lieberman had worked out expanding oil and gas drilling along much of the East Coast and Gulf, Graham added.
"What I have withdrawn from is a bill that basically restricts drilling in a way that is never going to happen in the future," Graham said. "I wanted it to safely occur in the future; I don't want to take it off the table."
So what changes is Graham referring to? In the modified Kerry-Lieberman bill, states would be able to veto new offshore drilling projects if a federal study found that they could be affected by potential spills. In light of the BP disaster, that doesn't seem too unreasonable, but it's too stringent for Graham. Meanwhile, there's this:
Graham said his advice to lawmakers is to "start over and scale down your ambitions." This includes allowing electric utilities more time to meet their emission reduction targets and completely removing energy-intensive manufacturers and other industries from a carbon control plan. The technology does not yet exist for them to be able to capture and store carbon emissions, he argued.
Sorry, but what? The bill that Graham helped write would have included "energy-intensive manufacturers and other industries" under its cap-and-trade system. The authors even designed the program to be far more lenient on industrial polluters than the House bill was. If Graham thought even this was infeasible, why did he craft the policy in the first place? What's changed? (Note that even electric utilities are on board with the Kerry-Lieberman bill, yet Graham still wants to water down the utility provisions.)
Also, it's a bit odd to argue that "technology does not yet exist for them to be able to capture and store carbon emissions." Fine, but a cap-and-trade system wouldn't force industrial polluters to capture all of their emissions right away. That's not how it works. The point of carbon trading is that it would force emitters to make gradual reductions over time. They'd presumably start by deploying new energy-efficiency measures and move from there. As the price of carbon rose, new technologies would develop and the market would help sort out how best to reduce pollution at least cost. Simply exempting entire industries until some silver-bullet technology magically appears is a terrible idea.
Honestly, Graham's complaints here are ridiculous. The differences between the bill he wrote and the bill as it exists now are relatively trivial. His main complaint seems to be that Congress isn't embarking on an offshore drilling free-for-all. Well, sure. That's what happens when an oil company poisons large swathes of the Gulf of Mexico. It's going to be hard to get any major new drilling incentives passed right now. That's not some inherent flaw in the climate bill—it's just an indication that some of his colleagues actually seem to be learning or thing or two from the BP fiasco. This whole episode really makes you wonder if Graham was ever serious about energy and climate policy in the first place.
Update: Again, once upon a time, Graham was saying stuff like this: "All the cars and trucks and plants that have been in existence since the Industrial Revolution, spewing out carbon day-in and day-out, will never convince me that's a good thing for your children and the future of the planet." Hey, never say never! Here's Graham today: "We can have a debate about global warming, and I'm not in the camp that believes man-made emissions are contributing overwhelmingly to global climate change, but I do believe the planet is heating up." That was fast.