Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.
While other Senate Republicans led by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) boycott action on the climate crisis, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has chosen a leadership role. In a press conference today with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the author of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Graham rebuked Republicans unwilling to address carbon pollution, asking, “If you can’t participate in solving a hard problem, why are you up here?” Saying that he has “seen the effects of a warming planet,” Graham called for the United States to “lead the world rather than follow the world on carbon pollution”:
The green economy is coming. We can either follow or lead. And those countries who follow will pay a price. Those nations who lead in creating the new green economy for the world will make money.
Graham’s words recall the testimony of former Center for American Progress Senior Fellow and White House official Van Jones, who told Congress in January, “We can build a green economy Dr. King would be proud of.” Van Jones, the founder of Green for All, left the White House after talk show host Glenn Beck targeted him as an “avowed communist and radical activist.” Beck has warned that efforts to build a green economy are “socialism,” “black nationalism,” and “fascism.”
Sen. Kerry announced that the three senators would work in a “dual track” to the committee process now underway to craft clean energy legislation in concert with the White House, which they hope to present directly to the Senate leadership. The senators conducted the press conference in between meetings with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and White House climate advisor Carol Browner.
Graham also discussed how Americans of any party “really feel uncomfortable with the fact that our nation sends a billion dollars a day overseas to buy foreign oil from some countries who don’t like us very much,” saying that part of “this initiative is to create a vision for energy independence and marry it up with a responsible climate control carbon pollution controls and create a new economy.”
Graham emphasized that his vision is to “help this planet” that “is in peril, create millions of new jobs for Americans that need them, and to become energy independent to make us safer,” because he believes that “controlling carbon pollution is good business.” Although he hoped for participation from his fellow Republicans, he said, “If you believe carbon pollution is not a problem, then you wouldn’t want to work with me, because I do.”
GRAHAM: The reason I’ve gotten involved in this issue is I see kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity politically to solve two real problems that I think the country and the world faces. One, carbon pollution. I am no scientist, but I’ve traveled throughout the world with Sen. McCain and others and seen the effects of a warming planet. And I do believe all of the cars we have on the roads, and the trucks, and all the energy we use that produces carbon daily is not a good thing for the planet.
But if environmental policy is not good business policy, you’ll never get 60 votes. So my goal is to try to make sure that we fashion environmental policy that will create millions of new jobs for Americans who are desiring to have new jobs. Virginia and New Jersey are going to benefit from what we do. South Carolina, Connecticut, and Massachusetts will benefit.
The green economy is coming. We can either follow or lead. And those countries who follow will pay a price. Those nations who lead in creating the new green economy for the world will make money. The business community senses an opportunity they’ve not had before. That’s why they’re at least exploring the possibility of a new pathway forward.
I’ve been told by a lot of business leaders in South Carolina, “Senator Graham, once you price carbon in a reasonable way, this green economy that we’re hoping for really will begin to flourish.”
The other aspect of why I’m involved is energy independence. Remember “Drill here, drill now”? Where did that go? Four dollar a gallon gas is not in our face but it could be soon. I think most Americans — Republicans, independents or Democrats — really feel uncomfortable with the fact that our nation sends a billion dollars a day overseas to buy foreign oil from some countries who don’t like us very much. Part of this initiative is to create a vision for energy independence and marry it up with a responsible climate control carbon pollution controls and create a new economy.
Finally, our country doesn’t have a vision on carbon. We need one. And we need to lead the world rather than follow the world on carbon pollution. Our country doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to build a green economy and never will until we price carbon.
And our country doesn’t have a vision for energy independence. We need one. Our goal is to create that vision that not only will help this planet — that I think is in peril — but create millions of new jobs for Americans that need them, and to become energy independent to make us safer.
. . .
What I’ve got to do is convince people in South Carolina and our colleagues up here as a whole that environmental policy will be good business policy. And if Congress doesn’t act, the EPA will.
Every member of Congress, Republicans included, has to answer to themselves and their constituents. Is carbon pollution a problem? If it is, what are you going to do about it? Some Republicans want a carbon tax. In many ways, that is a fairer system but I don’t think there are the votes for it. If you believe carbon pollution is not a problem, then you wouldn’t want to work with me, because I do. Now, if you … a cap-and-trade bill has to be well-crafted not to put us at competitive disadvantage to China and India.
I am convinced with my colleagues that controlling carbon pollution is good business. If you do it right, people can make money and you’ll have a cleaner planet and the world will follow. So I hope my Republican colleagues will at least listen, come to the table as the Chamber has, see where we’re going, give us input and if at the end of the day, you can’t support it, that’s okay.
But last thought. Doing nothing has a consequence. The EPA will do something. Doing nothing has a consequence to our business opportunity in leading the green economy revolution that’s coming and controlling carbon emissions.
So I think most people are upset with the Congress because we’re not doing anything that matters. And the things that we do do we’re overdoing. So we’re trying to get that sweet spot of a bill that will be good for the environment, good for business and make us energy independent.
So my hope is that participation is seen as a positive, not a negative. If you can’t participate in solving a hard problem, why are you up here?