Republican Senator: GOP Needs To Develop Real Position On Climate Policy

U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham, R-SC, on Sunday, July 3, 2011. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MUSADEQ SADEQ
U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham, R-SC, on Sunday, July 3, 2011. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MUSADEQ SADEQ

A leading Republican in the U.S. Senate is calling out his colleagues on the right for not having a concrete position on climate and the environment, and warning them of the consequences if they don’t develop one before the 2016 Presidential election.

“I think there will be a political problem for the Republican Party going into 2016 if we don’t define what we are for on the environment,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), according to a Roll Call report. “I don’t know what the environmental policy of the Republican Party is.”

As it is now, the vast majority of Senate Republicans oppose policies to protect the environment and the climate. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a pro-environment non-profit that tracks how politicians vote on environmental legislation, notes that in their career lifetimes, only two of the 46 Republican senators currently in office voted to protect the environment more than 50 percent of the time. Thirty-four senators have lifetime scores of 15 percent or less.

The dismal voting record has shown itself in Republican rhetoric. The phrase “I’m not a scientist” has become a common trope for Republicans to use to avoid directly denying that humans are causing global warming, a fact agreed upon by a vast majority of scientists.


Graham, it seems, has recognized that that type of “non-position” on the environment is not working with voters. As Roll Call notes, a relatively large majority of voters support the environmental policies of President Obama over those of Republicans. And after this year’s midterm elections, exit polling showed that almost 60 percent of voters consider climate change a “serious problem.”

Without a strong position on climate, Republicans risk alienating those voters, according to Daniel Weiss, LCV’s senior vice president for campaigns.

“The GOP presidential candidates are torn between appeasing oil billionaire Koch brothers and other mega donors and acknowledging climate science,” Weiss said Monday in an e-mailed statement. “As long as these candidates deny climate science and oppose climate pollution reductions, they risk alienating young, Latino, and women voters.”

For what it’s worth, Graham himself is far from an environmental champion. Though he is one of the few Republicans that accepts the science of climate change, he has also said that he thinks the issue has been “oversold” and over-hyped. He once sponsored a surprisingly aggressive climate bill with John Kerry, but that bill eventually failed after he withdrew his support. His lifetime score from the LCV is only 33 percent.

Graham’s personal views on climate change were probably best chronicled in a 2010 interview with Kate Sheppard for Mother Jones. In it, he questioned the science behind climate change but said carbon was “worthy of being controlled,” and that it’s “worthy to clean up the air and make money doing so.”


“I do believe the environmental benefit of a low carbon economy is worth the Republican party’s time and attention,” he said at the time. “Does climate change have to be your religion? No, it is not my religion, it is my concern.”

Graham’s office did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment on what specifically he thinks should be included in a GOP environment and climate policy platform, but it’s possible that his recommendation would be along those lines — that carbon pricing policies like cap-and-trade are good for the economy, and can work well regardless of whether you accept climate science.

That position, while still far from being accepted in Republican politics, is slowly becoming more widely-accepted among oil companies and other companies that would be most impacted by a carbon price. Indeed, at least 29 of the nation’s biggest companies have already incorporated a price on carbon into their long-term financial plans.

Many of those companies have close ties to Republicans — meaning their financial preparations are at odds with the goals of the politicians they support. Even John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell Oil USA, has said oil companies could readily handle a cap-and-trade system.

“Many oil companies are actually advocating for pricing of carbon,” Hofmeister said in a Sunday interview on Meet the Press. “Cap-and-trade is a system that actually generates economic value. Republicans have trashed it, unfortunately, and I think it’s got a bad reputation.”