Lucia Graves contributed to this report.
How close is the Senate to a bipartisan climate deal? Here's the Democrats' best hope for compromise -- Lindsey Graham, at a press conference today: "The science about global warming has changed... I think the science is in question... I think they've oversold the stuff."
Lindsey Graham's climate change odyssey continued on Wednesday, as the fickle South Carolina Republican signed on to an energy bill a day after saying that no energy bill could get 60 votes in the Senate and raised more than a few eyebrows by calling the reality of climate change into question.
Reporter's response: So if carbon emissions aren't warming the planet, why do you think they're a problem? "There's a reason I don't hang out in traffic jams," replied Graham. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that the stuff floating around in the Gulf doesn't get better for you when you burn it. If you don't want to go swimming in that stuff, why would you want to breathe it?"
Asked about the contradiction of backing a new energy bill after saying no bill can pass, Graham was unapologetic. "I didn't say this one," said Graham at a press conference with the bill's sponsor, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).
Graham only heard the details of the bill late Tuesday night. "I didn't think I'd be here today," he said.
An effort organized by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Graham finally collapsed Tuesday when Graham said he'd vote against it, making his appearance at Lugar's press briefing that much more striking.
Graham said his fundamental problem with Kerry and Lieberman's approach is that it removed much of the offshore drilling expansion. He said he fully understood the political necessity of doing so in the midst of a spill. "It's made the construct we've created much harder to sell," said Graham in an understatement. "It'd be very hard for Lindsey Graham to go back to South Carolina and say, 'Let's expand offshore drilling," said Graham.
Therefore, he reasoned, he didn't want a climate change vote "at a time when I can not get a vote on rational policy." By "rational policy," he was referring to expanded offshore drilling.
Lugar's approach, said Graham, is a good step forward because it works to reduce carbon emissions without getting into the thorny issue of cap-and-trade or offshore drilling.
Instead, Lugar's bill focuses on cutting foreign oil dependence mostly through vehicle fuel efficiency programs that extend current federal standards but with various waiver options. Long-term, predictable increases in fuel efficiency standards, Lugar says, will encourage innovative technologies and lead to American job growth.
The bill calls for expanding nuclear power by increasing federal loan guarantees, retiring aging coal plants that don't comply with environmental regulations, and requiring federal buildings to exceed national standards when possible, thereby increasing taxpayer savings. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.
But post press conference, it was Graham's absurd stance on global warming that drew questions. Graham fired back a few of his own: "Does climate change have to be a religion? No, it's not my religion. It is my concern."
"I do buy into the idea that carbon emissions are not good for the planet as a whole," he conceded, "but they're not going to get 60 votes to save the polar bears."