The Fuse

Energy Policy 2016: Spotlight on South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham

by R. Kress | August 13, 2015

Status: Declared candidacy on June 1, 2015

Party: Republican

Career Overview: Senator Lindsey Graham has been a Senator from South Carolina since 2003, when he succeeded Strom Thurmond, one of the longest-serving and oldest-serving Senators in U.S. history. Graham is a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force with 33 years of service—even serving in Iraq in 2007 as an active duty reservist. Prior to taking office as Senator, he was a member of the House of Representatives for South Carolina’s 3rd District for eight years.

Senate Voting Record: Graham has gained some recognition over the years as a willing collaborator with the Democrats in bipartisan policy and has been known to reach across the aisle on certain issues—including climate change. He, however, remains self-labeled as a “solid conservative” and differs sharply from Democrats on a wide range of policy issues.

Key votes from Graham on energy issues include:

  • YES: Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline Act (1/15)
  • YES: Open the Outer Continental Shelf to oil and gas leasing (5/11)
  • YES: Bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases (4/11)
  • NO: Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (6/07)
  • NO: Removing oil and gas exploration subsidies (6/07)
  • NO: Boost U.S. energy security by cutting dependence on foreign oil imports by 40 percent by 2025 (6/05)

Energy policy: Domestic energy independence and the economic consequences of energy policy dominate Graham’s views on this issue. When asked in the first Republican presidential debate how conservatives could trust him after he’d worked with Democrats on climate change policy, he said: “In my world, we’ll focus on energy independence and a clean environment. When it comes to fossil fuels, we’re going to find more here and use less. Over time, we’re going to become energy independent. I am tired of sending $300 billion overseas to buy oil from people who hate our guts. The choice between a weak economy and a strong environment is a false choice. That is not the choice I’ll offer America. A healthy environment, a strong economy and energy independent America—that would be the purpose of my presidency, is break the strangle hold that people enjoy on fossil fuels who hate our guts.”

Environment and climate change: Graham’s policy differs from some of the hard-liners of his party in that he openly accepts the science behind climate change—although he’s said that he accepts that not all of his party or his constituents feel the same. At the same time, however, he disagrees with the Obama administration on how to handle the issue. For example, he has voted in the past (see above) to cut the EPA’s regulatory power. Specifically, he’s opposed several key regulations in the Clean Air Act while also remaining vocal about the need to find a solution to emissions issues: “I’m OK with the science behind climate change. But if you’re not, that’s OK with me…But what is our position about the emissions? What’s our position about the Clean Air Act? What would we do as Republicans to ensure that the next generation enjoys a healthy environment, being good stewards of God’s green earth?”

In 2010, Graham reached across the aisle on this issue to work with Sens. John Kerry (D—MA) and Joe Lieberman (I—CT) to create The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act: legislation that would have capped emissions. In a joint op-ed in the New York Times with Kerry, Graham drew the link between energy security and an unwillingness to address climate change: “Even climate change skeptics should recognize that reducing our dependence on foreign oil and increasing our energy efficiency strengthens our national security. Both of us served in the military. We know that sending nearly $800 million a day to sometimes-hostile oil-producing countries threatens our security. In the same way, many scientists warn that failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lead to global instability and poverty that could put our nation at risk.” The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act was ultimately not enacted.

Keystone XL: Graham has been an unequivocal supporter of the Keystone XL Pipeline as a means to reduce dependence on foreign oil and create jobs. During the first Republican presidential debate, Graham put Hillary Clinton in his sights on the topic: “She’s not going to build the Keystone pipeline. I will.” In March, he wrote an op-ed slamming the President’s decision to veto the pipeline’s approval: “In order to be less dependent on foreign oil from hostile nations, we should embrace our relationship with Canada and build the pipeline to our refineries. To me, the choice is clear: Keystone XL is in our national interest…Dramatic price hikes in oil create massive instability in our economy. Keystone XL would lessen these oil shocks…Our country must secure future energy supplies and stop sending dollars to countries that use our wealth to hurt the United States…With gas prices continuing to rise, you should know every time you go to fill up at the pump that one reason you are paying a little more is because the Obama administration continues to play politics with Keystone XL.”