Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Lindsey Graham extends a green hand to Canada

Lindsey Graham is not your typical South Carolina senator. He thinks global warming is real - hardly a unanimous stand among Republicans - and he wants Canada to join him in his efforts to put in place a North American green economic strategy.

"Be our partner. You've got the same goal we do: You want to pass on a cleaner environment to future generations of Canadians and you want to make better business doing so," said the second-term senator, whose position earned him a censure this month from the Charleston County Republican Party. "We ought to sit down with our Canadian allies and friends and work together on similar standards in terms of emissions [and]collaborate on how we can develop clean coal and carbon sequestration."

And do it, Mr. Graham warns, before China eats our lunch. "China is beginning to play large in the green economy and we need to work together with our Canadian neighbours so we don't lose market share," he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Story continues below advertisement

Collaboration is crucial, too, if Canada is to avoid being side-swiped by U.S. tariffs on imports from countries with weaker emissions controls. The so-called Waxman-Markey climate change bill that was narrowly adopted by the House of Representatives in June authorizes "border measures" on such imports.

Though the Senate bill Mr. Graham is writing with Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry will likely include a similar provision, he insists Canada need not worry. "I can promise my Canadian friends that we're not going to do anything on carbon-emission controls in the U.S. that makes the economy of Canada worse because we wouldn't be able to sell it to the American people."

His progressive view on climate change makes him a rarity in the Republican Party, and even more rare for a senator from South Carolina. They don't typically bend, no matter how hard the wind is blowing. The late Strom Thurmond, who left office at age 100 in 2003, stuck to his segregationist stand long after it became taboo and even switched parties over Democratic civil-rights legislation, joining the Republicans in 1964.

Jim DeMint, currently the junior senator from the Palmetto State, has been ranked the upper chamber's most conservative member by the National Journal for two years running and has been leading the charge to purge the Republican Party of moderate candidates.

Then there's Mr. Graham. Though the former U.S. Air Force lawyer has been one the leading critics of President Barack Obama's costly health-care reform and rollback of some Bush era anti-terrorism policies, Mr. Graham has earned the ire of many in his own party for supporting a form of amnesty for illegal immigrants and voting to confirm the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor as Mr. Obama's first Supreme Court nominee. Nothing, however, is getting Mr. Graham in hotter water with his own kind than his call for Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to combat climate change.

So far, the Harper government has been waiting for a signal from the Obama administration and Congress before unveiling how it aims to achieve Canada's own target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 20 per cent below 2006 levels by 2020. There is little evidence of cross-border collaboration.

Mr. Graham is not waiting for an invitation. The climate-change bill he and Mr. Kerry, along with independent Senator Joe Lieberman, hope to take to Congress in the new year would constitute a bargain: Republicans would embrace a cap-and-trade regime that would put a price on carbon emissions, in exchange for Democratic acceptance of massive government support for nuclear power, clean-coal technology and domestic oil exploration.

Story continues below advertisement

"The bill I'm trying to craft will be very pro-nuclear," Mr. Graham offered. "We also have to utilize the coal we have and make it clean coal. I'm trying to combine energy independence with the renaissance of nuclear energy and controlling carbon."

Some environmentalists are skeptical of Mr. Graham's support and note that he has accepted large donations from Scana Corp., which owns several coal-fired plants in South Carolina and is seeking to build two nuclear reactors in the state.

Regardless, Mr. Graham's position thrills Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, whose province is not only (for now) the world's biggest miner of uranium used in nuclear reactors, but is also seeking $100-million (U.S.) from Washington to fund a $280-million cross-border carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) pilot project.

Mr. Graham and Mr. Wall have struck up a working relationship in recent weeks, thanks to the intermediation of former U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins. Saskatchewan has retained Mr. Wilkins's law firm to represent it in the U.S. capital. Mr. Wall insists the $400,000 (U.S.) one-year contract is taxpayers' money well spent, and it's hard to argue with him, considering the access it has bought him on Capitol Hill, where Canadian and Albanian are typically interchangeable terms for irrelevant.

It helped that Mr. Wilkins, 63, mentored Mr. Graham, 54, when both were Republican members of the South Carolina state legislature in the early nineties.

Mr. Graham, who visited Saskatchewan in September and whose state depends on coal for about half of its electricity, speaks enthusiastically about the cross-border CCS project. It would capture CO{-2} emissions from the Shand coal-fired power plant in Estevan and permanently store the greenhouse gases underground 200 kilometres away in Montana.

Story continues below advertisement

Clean-coal technology is still very much a work in progress and the race to develop the technique that becomes the gold standard is on, hence the competition not only for dollars, but also for visibility. Washington may not yet have shown Mr. Wall the money, but Saskatchewan has been noticed thanks to Mr. Graham.

"We struck up a personal friendship when the senator came to Saskatchewan … and he got interested in the Montana project," Mr. Wall explained. "He's one of those politicians who can reach across partisan lines to go to work on the issues. His credibility is frankly one of the reasons I think we could meet with Senator Kerry."

On the eve of next month's United Nations climate-change summit in Copenhagen, it is unclear how much political capital the Obama administration is willing to spend to push a cap-and-trade bill in Congress. Job No. 1 for the White House remains passage of health-care reform.

But if climate-change legislation stands any hope in the Senate, dominated as it is by members whose states almost all depend on coal in one way or another, it starts and ends with Lindsey Graham. Canada can take comfort in that.

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to