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That time Lindsey Graham crafted a bill to destroy the economy

"Here's me. Here's cap-and-trade. So far apart!"
"Here's me. Here's cap-and-trade. So far apart!"
(Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Thursday was filled with political dramas, not only the main event — Fox versus Trump — but countless smaller side plots, from the unlikely rise of Carly Fiorina to the testy face-off between Chris Christie and Rand Paul.

Update: Coverage of second Republican debate on CNN.

If you scroll down that list of dramas ... farther ... no, skip a few pages ... there, toward the bottom ... you will find this sad little episode, the only time during the two debates when the words "climate change" were uttered:

HEMMER: Senator Lindsey Graham, you worked with Democrats and President Obama when it came to climate change, something you know is extremely unpopular with conservative Republicans.

How can they trust you based on that record?

GRAHAM: You can trust me to do the following: that when I get on stage with Hillary Clinton, we won't be debating about the science, we'll be debating about the solutions. In her world, cap and trade would dominate, that we will destroy the economy in the name of helping the environment. 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.

Couple things.

In 2010, Graham supported a cap-and-trade bill, alongside Sens. John Kerry (D) and Joe Lieberman (I). Presumably he did not think it would "destroy the economy in the name of helping the environment."

Also, it's unclear why "cap and trade would dominate" under a Clinton administration. There's no way she could persuade the GOP House to pass a comprehensive cap-and-trade bill, so mostly what she'll be able to do is defend EPA's Clean Power Plan, in which cap and trade plays only a minor role, as one compliance mechanism among many.

Graham has not said what his alternative solutions to climate change would be, though he's apparently ready to debate them with Clinton.

As for fossil fuels, "find more here and use less" is precisely the strategy Obama has pursued. Under his administration, US oil production has boomed and US oil consumption has, for the first time in a half-century, leveled off and begun to decline. As a result, under Obama's watch, for the first time in 20 years, the US produces more oil than it imports from other countries.


Graham might accelerate these trends (though he won't say how), but he will not make the US "energy independent," because energy independence is a myth. Imports still supply about 40 percent of US oil. Even if through some miracle Graham cranked production up and demand down enough to close that gap ... it wouldn't matter, since oil is fungible, bought and sold on a global market that sets the price. As long as the US consumes oil, it will be paying roughly the global market price for it.

It's not our consumption of Middle Eastern oil that makes us vulnerable to oil sheiks "who hate our guts." The US only imports about 13 percent of its oil from the Middle East. It's the fact that those sheiks still control enough oil to manipulate the global price.

As long as the US consumes a lot of oil — and it consumes about 19 million barrels a day, more than double what any other country consumes — it will be vulnerable to swings in the price of oil, which means being vulnerable to the people and forces that can cause such swings. There is no energy independence as long as the US is dependent on a global commodity.

As for the "choice between a weak economy and a strong environment," it is indeed false, as the past 60 years have seen the US implement regulations that radically reduced local air and water pollutants even as economic growth continued. Also, the association of cap and trade with a weak economy is misleading, as most economists say a cap-and-trade program (or other price on carbon) is the most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions.

Other than all that, Lindsey Graham really nailed this one. I can see why some call him "uniquely qualified to lead our country to a brighter, cleaner future."

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