From a party not known for a forward stance against Climate Change legislation and with many members downright sceptical, perhaps we should be positive when Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) visited Saskatchewan last week and declared himself a believer, that Climate Change was a “reality”. The interview, worth reading in full, brings to light some of the thinking of Republicans on Climate Change and the North American energy market.

Senator’s Graham’s views are particularly important for several reasons. Firstly the Climate change bill that passed through the US house and is awaiting its senate hearing is possibly the single most important turning point in getting a global deal on Climate Change. As Graham himself noted, the bill narrowly passed in the house meaning that it dropped Democrats, given the house is often seen as more partisan, the implication is that the bill would need to be watered down to make a passage through the Senate. While this may be true to some extent, Graham is being slightly disingenuous, the House bill passed with enough votes – some Democrats were able to vote against it for their constituency, safe in the knowledge it would pass (i.e. if it had been closer they would probably have also voted for it).

Senator Graham’s views were likewise interesting in terms of the shape of Climate legislation in North America, which can probably be read as a reasonable gauge of Republican thinking on energy policy if not Climate Change policy.

“Carbon sequestration is the key to anything you want to do when you talk about getting away from fossil fuels or controlling CO2 emissions”

Not that this will surprise many, but CCS ( Carbon Capture and Storage) is in the near future at least a political reality– whether its viable or not. For both Canada and the US, CCS is the magic wand which can placate their powerful fossil fuel lobbies – especially Coal in the US and the oil-sands in Canada. Both Obama and Harper have alluded to its necessary use – and with many Democrats hailing from coal states such as West Virginia and Virginia, it will be next to impossible for Climate Change legislation to be passed without it. Similarly in Canada, the powerful geopolitical role envisaged from Alberta’s oil sands including in any North American Cap and Trade, ensures that both countries will create opt outs or subsidies to nurture their particular fossil fuel industries.

On Oil Sands Senator Graham words will disappoint environmentalists:

“the United States should accept it, because every drop of oil that we can receive from our friends in Canada is one less we have to buy from people who don’t like us.”

“I think the future’s on your side when it comes to your U.S. neighbours accepting your products.”

Almost without a doubt, there is a necessary trade-off to be made in environmental issues. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) may be a “believer” in Climate Change, but his language was firmly rooted in pragmatic security and economic issues- cheap and safe energy – if Congress does swing back towards Republicans, future Climate Change debates will be shaped by this kind of language. This isn’t necessarily negative, in order to make Climate Change a permanent legislative priority it needs to be bundled into other issues, to appeal to wide base. In this case, the issue is energy security, while for many this was meant to be about fuel economy standards, reduction in oil for power stations and growth of new green energy industries – yet in the interim this will mean oil sands from Alberta. The battle for environmentalists will be to try to lobby for the clean- up of the Alberta sands and the US coal.

 

 

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