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Lindsay Graham (R-SC): “If you had a bill that would allow for responsible offshore drilling, a robust nuclear power title, I think you could get some Republican votes for a cap-and-trade system.”

By Joe Romm

"Lindsay Graham (R-SC): “If you had a bill that would allow for responsible offshore drilling, a robust nuclear power title, I think you could get some Republican votes for a cap-and-trade system.”"


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“I think the planet is heating up,” Graham said. “I think CO2 emissions are damaging the environment and this dependence on foreign oil is a natural disaster in the making. Let’s do something about it. I’d like to solve a problem, and if it’s on President Obama’s watch, it doesn’t bother me one bit if it makes the country better off.”

The good news is the chances of passing a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill are rising, as these quotes from a key swing GOP vote make clear.  The other good news is that most of the annoying things that progressives may have to swallow to get that bill smell worse than they taste.  E&E News reports:

Key Senate Democrats signaled yesterday they are willing to negotiate with Republicans on nuclear power and expanded domestic oil and gas development if it helps in nailing down the 60 votes necessary for floor passage on a comprehensive global warming and energy bill.

“Every idea is on the table,” said Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), the lead sponsor of Senate climate legislation. “We’re going to work in a bona fide way with everybody to see how to bridge a gap here. We’ve got to get a 60-vote margin. That means you’ve got to legislate, which means you have to compromise.”

Several moderate Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they are in talks with Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on the nuclear language, as well as other key issues.

“A guy like Senator Kerry is looking for coalitions,” Graham said.

The notion of a nuclear title is not news — that was always going to happen.  While I wouldn’t be thrilled with all conceivable provisions such a title might have, the overwhelming majority are unlikely to have a significant impact or even cost the taxpayers much money, as long as nuclear power plants remain so damn expensive (see “Nuclear Bombshell: $26 Billion cost “” $10,800 per kilowatt! “” killed Ontario nuclear bid“).

If the nuclear industry could ever get its act together and come up with one or two standardized, modular, affordable designs, they might become a major climate solution.  And that wouldn’t be a terrible thing, given just how much clean energy we are going to need to stabilize near 2°C warming.  But I’m not expecting any major design improvements or big cost drops for a decade or more in this country.

What exactly do the pro-nuke folk want?

Graham said he is pushing for language in the Senate bill that puts nuclear power on par with wind and solar power in terms of tax credits and inclusion in a nationwide renewable electricity standard.

“Also to deal with the waste stream,” Graham added. “You’ve got to have a disposition plan to deal with the waste.”

McCain said he brings four major demands to the negotiation table: a commitment to construction of new nuclear power plants, loan guarantees, and solutions for both nuclear waste storage and recycling.

And I’d like to be a judge on American Idol.  Seriously, though, my guess is a deal can be had — and will.

The final deal is not going to call nuclear power “renewable” and stick it in the existing too-weak renewable standard, I think, but rather may tack on a low carbon electricity standard that includes nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and maybe combined cycle natural gas.

As for McCain, I just don’t know what he means by “a commitment to construction.”  You can’t force people to build nukes — especially at current staggering prices:

So we’ll throw money at nukes, just like the bill does for CCS, and a few plants will be built and the overwhelming majority of the emissions reductions will be achieved through the low-cost solutions — efficiency and conservation, natural gas fuel switching, and wind, solar thermal, and biomass.

What about drilling?

Graham suggested Kerry look to the tentative agreement reached last year among roughly 20 Senate moderates — Democrat and Republican — that would open up large swaths of new federal acreage to oil and gas development in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the coasts of Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia.

Well, this will need to be crafted in a way that does not lose votes, such as Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, but fundamentally, most of the potential drilling provisions bother me less than the nuclear ones for two fundamental reasons:

  1. When oil prices soar in the coming years, Democrats are not going to be able to resist the demand for opening more area to drilling anyway — so they might as well get a climate deal in return now.  Oil is likely to blow past $100 a barrel in Obama’s first term — and could well blow past $150 a barrel in what will hopefully be his second term (see “Deutsche Bank: Oil to hit $175 a barrel by 2016).“  Opening more federal acreage is inevitable.
  2. Opening more federal acreage probably won’t lead to any significant extra drilling for at least another decade.  I had a long analysis of this last year — “The cruel offshore-drilling hoax.”  The oil companies already have access to some 34 billion barrels of offshore oil they haven’t even developed yet, but ending the federal moratorium on offshore drilling would probably add only another several billion barrels, generating under 100,000 barrels a day in new supply — maybe 0.1% of world production — sometime after 2020.  A leading EIA analyst told me in 2008 that ending the entire federal moratorium is “certainly not going to make a difference in the next 10 years.”  My 2008 analysis discusses why.  If this deal ripens, I’ll do another post.

We need to keep our eye on the prize — a shrinking economy-wide cap, coupled with major provisions to boost energy efficiency and and other clean technologies.  This is what we need to complete the transformation to a clean energy economy begun in the stimulus, generating $100 billion a year in new U.S. investment in clean energy, sufficient to compete with the Europeans and Asians who want to eat our lunch in this most rapidly growing industry of the century.  And, of course, it is what we need to achieve an international deal that gives us a fighting chance to stabilize anywhere near 2°C total warming and avert catastrophic impacts.

‹ Publicize or perish: The scientific community is failing miserably in communicating the potential catastrophe of climate change.

Econ 350: Can we still afford to save the climate? ›

15 Responses to Lindsay Graham (R-SC): “If you had a bill that would allow for responsible offshore drilling, a robust nuclear power title, I think you could get some Republican votes for a cap-and-trade system.”

  1. Brent says:

    Yeah…give ‘em nukes all day long, because if they’re too damned expensive anyway, they’ll never be built.

    I’m not so sure about offshore drilling, after having seen what a wreck a stupid accident left on Santa Barbara’s otherwise pristine beaches. But…whatever.

  2. Obviously they are not that expensive. The Chinese are building them at $1500kw installed. The Japanese a little more and the S. Koreans the same. They are being built and on schedule and at budget. As for modularity…see the AP1000 being built with 249 distinct, transportable, modules.

    You have to ask yourself: If the Chinese can do this, and they come in under budget and on time, do you really think no one is going to be looking at nuclear as a solution? Do you think that 24 countries are discussing and *planning* new nuclear plants that it’s merely a fluke?

  3. Mike D says:

    I have always thought McCain was one of the (mostly) honest senators. When he recognizes a real problem, he honestly wants to fix it rather than just talk the talk his base wants to hear. He recognizes the climate change threat and wants to fix it. Same with his protege Graham. Global warming is toxic to the Republican base and just the fact that they are willing to risk speaking out about it, let alone say publicly that they can support cap and trade, is huge. Graham and McCain want to support this bill. Democrats would be fools not to give them the few things they need in exchange

  4. If you have a climate bill with “responsible” offshore oil drilling and a “robust” nuclear title, you no longer have a climate bill–you just have one more big giveaway to dirty energy interests…

    [JR: Let's hope there are not many with that naive view -- or else we're never going to have a chance to solve the climate problem.]

    and yes, David, nukes are that expensive. Companies like FLP (Turkey Point, $8200/kw), PPL & Constellation (Bell Bend & Calvert Cliffs, @$9,000/kw) aren’t putting numbers like that out because they secretly think they can build them for $1500/kw…..

    And, for that matter, the real-life experience in Finland, where Areva is now 75% overbudget and pushing $8 billion with at least 3 more years to go….

    [JR: Did you even read this post? That is precisely why the nukes won't get built, and why most of these provisions aren't worth losing sleep over.]

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe wrote: “As for McCain, I just don’t know what he means by ‘a commitment to construction.’”

    McCain made that very clear in one of the 2008 presidential debates when he demanded that the US build 100 nuclear power plants “right away”.

    Anyone who believes it is possible to build 100 nuclear power plants “right away” is an idiot.

    If the Republicans have their way, hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars will be squandered on new nuclear power power plants that will be unneeded and unprofitable by the time they are built, because by that time we will have more electricity from wind and solar than the entire country uses today.

    The nuclear power boondoggle has nothing to do with meeting the USA’s energy needs or addressing the global warming crisis, and everything to do with enriching a few giant corporations at taxpayer expense.

  6. This is the point of my diary on the dailykos at davidwalters.dailykos.com

    I address the problems of the Republican inability to divorce the nuclear issue from the offshore drilling issue. They seem to be ideologically wedded to all forms of profit making energy schemes.

    I suggest that pro-nuclear Democrats do it for them by proposing a nuclear-only bill and demand the Republicans vote for it without the off-shore drilling nonsense.

  7. Michael, you miss my point. Not all these new builds are that expensive. Even at that price, it’s still a good deal considering we get 90% capacity…that is, 90% availability vs the very expensive unreliable wind and solar experiments.

    The real lower prices really won’t come about for another year or so as the Chinese continue on their major nuclear expansion and the learning curve flattens…which we will be the beneficiaries of.

    As such, *objectively* speaking, the non-carbon future will be composed of all sorts of low-carbon sources of generation from hydro in Africa and Latin America, to solar, wind and nuclear everywhere. I realize that the reality is that many, many countries see all these forms of low-carbon generation as solution, be it China or the U.A.E. or many other countries.

    If you read the first blog energy here on Climate Progress about “90% of Americans support nuclear” its one of the major half-truths of politics: People support a LOT of things. These SAME Americans also support nuclear. They don’t counterpoise it like most *activists* do. And in fact most Americans reflect what is actually going on in the world today. It’s denial of major proportions to think otherwise.

  8. nic says:

    Is it true that because of less regulation on spent fuel the Chinese are able to recycle spent fuel many times over into energy which greatly reduces the price per khr and greatly reduces the amount of waste?

    [JR: Never heard of that. Doubt it. Reprocessing increases the price per kwh and doesn't greatly reduce the waste.]

  9. “Also to deal with the waste stream,” Graham added. “You’ve got to have a disposition plan to deal with the waste.”

    Are they going to finalize plans for a disposal site in Nevada while Sen. Reid of Nevada is the majority leader?

    What are the Chinese planning to do with the wastes? Or have they just decided to create a steady stream of waste that will remain lethal for many millenia and to think later about what to do with it?

  10. J4zonian says:

    Well, maybe. Maybe we can give them a sop and not have it blow up in our faces. Or absorb poisons or whatever fits the sop metaphor…

    But no I don’t really think so. I think it will only encourage them.

    Progress is made by saying what we believe, over and over, in short simple sentences, and working hard and tirelessly and wisely for it. (The short part’s not my best skill but I like to think I’m talking to people who can hold more complex ideas than the average joe, er… schmoe.) Progress is made by saying things in a way that convinces your opponents, not yourself. (a David Comey/ RHS Crossman principle). But as GK Chesterton said about something else, framing and sticking to one’s principles “hasn’t been tried and found wanting, it’s been found difficult and not tried.” (For difficult, read “not popular with corporations”. Votes for progressives in congress and in the country are not found on the right, they’re found on the left. That seems so obvious to me I marvel at the fact that it has to be said at all, let alone that it’s not acted on when it is said. As the current president’s campaign showed, if you excite non-voters in your catchment area you can win. Of course, he did it with smoke and mirrors, (lies and vagueness) which didn’t fool the more aware people on the left, or people who could read, so many still didn’t vote.

    You can’t win much, especially in the long term, by saying one thing and doing another, time after time. You’re even less likely to win by saying NOTHING and going along with the other side 90% of the time.

    Nuclear power is expensive, dangerous, undemocratic and front-loadedly capital intensive rather than labor intensive, but its proponents have loads of money and media to push open any tiny crack in the doorway we give them. It will suck money from all other options for little and late and shortlived (2 words: Peak Uranium) improvements in GHG emissions EVEN if the money is only allocated and not spent. Saying anything other than that–little, late and temporary–will likely come back to hurt us in the end (or bite us in the ass if you prefer). Saying that and then selling out will be even worse, and convince the non-voters they are right.

    We need to say, over and over and over, that conservation, solar, wind, organic agriculture and ecological lives are the answers. Then we need to back it up with reasonable arguments and above all, actions. The low-hanging fruit are those parts of our own lives we can change, to start the ball rolling. Or the sop sopping, or something. Action, and statement of values and beliefs, congruent and integrated.

  11. Stuart says:

    Joe, you are spot on with this post. Throw them a couple of bones if it can get a climate bill passed. As you say, when oil gets back to $150/barrel the drilling will happen, and we will probably need some nukes as well. I read somewhere that there is only one foundry in the world big enough to cast reactor vessels – I think it was in Japan. Is this true?

  12. MarkB says:

    Encouraging comments from Graham. I just don’t have confidence that in the end, Republicans (beyond perhaps Snowe/Collins) will slide back into the Party of No strategy, a somewhat effective strategy that focuses not on improving their image, but on weakening the opposing party, disenfranchising would-be midterm voters.

    “Key Senate Democrats signaled yesterday they are willing to negotiate with Republicans on nuclear power and expanded domestic oil and gas development if it helps in nailing down the 60 votes necessary for floor passage on a comprehensive global warming and energy bill.”

    Nuclear power is very low carbon, so while potentially hurting costs, the emissions reduction goal doesn’t seem to be affected. If niclear power can actually compete with non-nuclear low carbon sources, they will have the chance to demonstrate. Offshore drilling won’t help a lick at lowering gas prices. World demand has long passed the point where any price benefits we can get from remaining resources, however seemingly large. Since oil is lower carbon than shales or coal and is not quite the global warming threat that the latter two are, it’s another compromise that doesn’t entail major climate change impacts.

    There are worse compromises than these.

  13. David B. Benson says:

    Designing and building a few copies of integral fast reactors seems a good idea. IFRs are supposed to destroy highly radioactive “wastes” while generating useful heat for making electric power.

    I’d like to see a provision in this omnibus energy bill funding DoE to get started (again) on an IFR design.

  14. The Chinese have about 200 tons of high level waste…enough to fit in a closet for now. They do NOT reprocess but are planning to do so when they feel they need to…in about 20 years. They are also looking at geological disposal for the post-reprocessing wastes which, if done several times, actually lowers the lethality many many times. The French in fact only require a “100 year” canisters for their vitrified wastes which are far less lethal after several reprocessings.

    The Chinese will, like most other countries, look to the above mentioned fast reactor solutions for their waste problems as well, reducing to almost zero any waste. The spent nuclear fuel they generate from their plans to build over 120 nuclear plants will be the feed stock for the FRs they are interested in building. The Indians have an even more elaborate plan using a three step model involving their massive thorium reserves.

    For every nuclear plant built, a coal plant doesn’t get built. That’s a HUGE mitigation of CO2.

    PS… Hi David Benson! (we are both regulars over at bravenewclimate.com)

  15. J4zonian says:

    Conservation, solar, and wind are also HUGE mitigators of CO2, faster, cheaper, safer than nuclear. More ecological, more democratical.

    And maybe I just live in a small house, but I don’t have a closet that could fit 200 tons of ANYTHING. It’s a mistake to minimize the seriousness of the nuclear waste problem, and ignore the costs of reprocessing not actually even accomplished yet, that will raise the costs and lower the competitiveness of nuclear power. Miraculously, however, those fatal wounds will not kill it, since both wealthy corporations and the military (aka other wealthy corporations) want it kept alive. They have billions of dollars of ours to waste keeping it on life support long enough for the hell part of hell and high water to come and make people panic into whatever irrational responses the right wing media propels them into, including war and nuclear power. The two are intimately linked in so many ways.

    For every dollar spent on conservation, solar and wind, more energy is produced than any fossil fuel or nuclear dollar. Nuslear power does not currently supply a significant part of the US’s or world’s energy, but at current rates, nuclear fuel will be close to being gone in about 60 years. Using it faster, and actually getting a sizable part of our energy out of it, will make it go even faster. Every dollar spent on nukes is a dollar spent on a bridge to nowhere. Solar, wind, conservation: faster, cheaper, safer. More ecological, more democratical. Better in every way.