May 11, 2016
By Frank Knapp
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), free from the partisan restraints of campaigning, has returned to his maverick ways in the Senate in pushing for clean energy solutions to climate change.
Graham’s effort last month to include a bipartisan “sense of Congress” amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill is reminiscent of 2009 when Mr. Graham teamed up with then Democratic Senator John Kerry to propose climate change legislation. In a New York Times opinion editorial they described the bill as “a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress and the blueprint for a clean-energy future that will revitalize our economy, protect current jobs and create new ones, safeguard our national security and reduce pollution.”
Unfortunately, back then the wind was in their faces and the Senate’s climate-science-denial caucus, backed by industry money and influence, won the day.
While climate denial is still in full swing in the Senate, Graham and a growing coalition of moderate Republicans are heeding the public’s demand for climate action and recognizing the political risk of continued obstruction. Mr. Graham’s recent amendment was co-sponsored by four Senate Republicans (Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, Mark Kirk and Rob Portman) and five Senate Democrats (Sherrod Brown, Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley, Brian Schatz and Sheldon Whitehouse).
The amendment would have Congress asserting that “climate change is real”, and “poses an increasing risk” to our citizens’ health and the nation’s “security, economy and infrastructure”. It called on the United States to “be a world leader in addressing climate change” and put the responsibility on Congress “to take actions that reduce emissions and combat climate change” through policies that support “research and development to bolster clean energy technology.”
By pushing for clean energy solutions, this maverick is going with the wind, as in wind energy, not against it. While the amendment was not adopted, there is wide acceptance outside the U.S. Capitol for Mr. Graham’s position. The business community is particularly concerned about the economic consequences of unrestrained climate change. The widely acclaimed 2014 report, “Risky Business: The economic risks of climate change in the United States”, has provided a comprehensive analysis of the danger.
“The U.S. faces significant and diverse economic risks from climate change. The signature effects of human-induced climate change—rising seas, increased damage from storm surge, more frequent bouts of extreme heat—all have specific, measurable impacts on our nation’s current assets and ongoing economic activity.”
Polling by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) found that “87% of small business owners believe that consequences of climate change could harm their business in the future. Higher energy costs, power outages due to stress on the power grid, and severe storms top their list of concerns.”
And Mr. Graham certainly is attuned to the views of South Carolinians concerned about vulnerability to rising seas resulting from climate change. A Winthrop University poll found that 68 percent of South Carolinians living in coastal counties are very sure or somewhat sure sea-level rise is or will be happening. Only 15.4 percent said that sea levels were not rising or would never do so.
Mr. Graham is correct in calling for Congress to take action to minimize the negative impacts of climate change brought about by human activity. Government standards are part of the answer to reducing carbon pollution, and the ASBC poll found that 64 percent of small businesses support government action to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
With Congress paralyzed by deep partisan disagreements, the Environmental Protection Agency used its authority under the Clean Air Act to move forward. EPA’s Clean Power Plan sets the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants and encourages the development of cleaner, safer sources of energy. With the Clean Power Plan being challenged in federal court, twenty-five business groups lead by ASBC and including the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce filed a friend of the court brief highlighting the economic benefits of taking action to reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change.
Mr. Graham should see the Clean Power Plan as his amendment enacted and continue to work within his party at the national and state levels to move the country toward cleaner, safer energy. Clean energy is a business-friendly way to strengthen the American economy, reduce dangerous carbon pollution and address climate change. Senator Graham knows it. He has the wind at his back.
Mr. Knapp is the co-chair of the American Sustainable Business Council and the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.