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On Climate, Lindsey Graham Says GOP Ready to 'Cross Rubicon'

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters yesterday at an Earth Day event in Dallas that congressional Republicans are “ready to cross the Rubicon” on climate change. According E&E News, which ran the story today, Graham and other Republican colleagues are “developing legislation to introduce next year that could serve as the GOP framework for addressing climate change.”

It should be recalled that in 2010, Sen. Graham, along with former Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Harry Reid (D-NV), tried to save the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill (H.R. 2454) by drafting companion legislation in the Senate. H.R. 2454 narrowly passed the House by 219-212 on a mostly party-line vote in June 2009 (only eight Republicans voted for it). The bill quickly become radioactive when free-market groups exposed it as a “cap-n-tax”—a stealth tax on energy. Reid tried to repackage the legislation as “pollution control,” telling reporters “those words [i.e., cap-and-trade] are not in my vocabulary.”

The rest, as they say, is history. A $100 million green group lobbying campaign did not win over a single additional Senate Republican. Reid pulled the plug on the draft cap-and-trade bill, sparing Senate Democrats from the political fallout that cost House Democrats their majority in the 2010 mid-term elections.

The legislation Graham now hopes to develop will promote “energy efficiency, natural gas use and technology to clean up coal-fired power plants,” according to E&E. He thinks it will be a winner for the GOP, explaining: “If you want this party to grow—people from 18 to 35 believe in climate change whether you do or not.”

Color me skeptical. Marketplace competition naturally tends to produce economically-efficient levels of energy efficiency. Energy efficiency mandates divert resources from higher- to lower-valued investments, can increase the purchase price of appliances by more than consumers save on utility bills, and impair both product performance and vehicle safety.

A new study in Nature confirms Graham’s view that increased production and export of U.S. natural gas can help the world reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But what are the odds that Democrats will support GOP legislation protecting U.S. frackers and gas exporters from punitive regulation unless the bill also further rigs energy markets in favor of renewables?

As for promoting “clean” coal technology, the Environmental Protection Agency has just proposed to determine that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is not an adequately demonstrated best system of emission reduction for new coal power plants. CCS is even less commercially viable for existing coal power plants, which cannot afford to retrofit with CCS technology absent lavish taxpayer or ratepayer subsidies. So, this part of the legislation sounds like corporate welfare—a good plan for ginning up campaign contributions perhaps, but lousy for winning hearts and minds.

To outgrow the continual temptation to Tweedledum it on climate policy, Republicans must learn to challenge the catastrophe narrative and clarify how coercive de-carbonization endangers economic growth, consumer welfare, and our constitutional arrangements.