lamar alexanderLamar Alexander

Sen. Lamar Alexander realizes that we need to do something about climate change and has tried to distance himself from the skeptics in his party. “I am one senator who thinks climate change is a problem, humans are causing it, and we need to deal with it,” he said at a recent hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

But he hates the climate bill the Democratic leadership pushed through the House, and he’s spoken out against the cap-and-trade approach in general. He called the House bill “a job-killing, $100-billion-a-year national energy tax” that “will raise utility bills and send jobs overseas looking for cheap energy,” and said the plan is “unfixable” and “needs to be junked.”

“We have a spectrum of opinions in the U.S. Senate,” said Alexander. “We have some people who believe [climate change is] a hoax, and some people who are willing to jump off a cliff. I don’t think we ought to jump off a cliff, but we ought to buy some insurance.”

The insurance Alexander wants to buy seems to consist primarily of a massive expansion of nuclear power. In introducing an energy and climate plan in mid-July, he called for building 100 new nuclear power plants over the next 20 years. He also called for a low-carbon fuel standard, which he argues would not raise the price of gasoline, and for more electric vehicles, expanded offshore oil and gas drilling, and increased funding for renewable energy R&D. His plan, he said, is “the cheap energy solution,” whereas “a high-cost solution like Waxman-Markey would be the expensive solution.”

But Alexander has argued in favor of taxing carbon directly, at least from coal. “We should have carbon tax on coal, leave everything else alone,” he said at a recent summit organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. He also argued that the Nobel Prize should go to the person who makes carbon-capture-and-storage technology scalable.

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Alexander has been increasingly critical of coal, an unexpected development as he comes from a state that is fairly coal-reliant. “Coal is a dirty business,” he said at a January hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee, shortly after a coal-ash spill devastated a Tennessee town. In June, he introduced legislation to end the practice of dumping mine waste into streams, and made strong statements about mountaintop-removal coal mining. “Coal is an essential part of our energy future, but it is not necessary to destroy our mountain tops and streams in order to have enough coal,” he said.

Whether the Senate will be able to craft a comprehensive climate and energy plan to Alexander’s liking remains to be seen, but he is more willing to participate in the process than many others in his party.

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