03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Graham: China's Leading The Way On Green Industry

Republican lawmakers tend to fret that tougher U.S. carbon-emissions standards will drive business to cheaper polluting havens like China, but a key GOP senator said Thursday that an increasingly innovative and green-focused China is more likely to leave Americans in the dust.

"My biggest concern now is that China's going to leave us behind, that they've really turned a corner here in terms of bringing these technologies in," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Thursday after a press conference. "They're creating demand for green technology in China and that's helping their economy. We need to create demand back here at home. Right now we're in limbo, we're in no-man's land."

Graham has been the sole Republican voice in the Senate taking a lead on climate-change legislation, joining with John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) to craft a bill alongside the one introduced by Kerry and environment committee chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Still, the bipartisan bill will almost certainly be weaker, as Kerry, Graham and Lieberman have emphasized that they want to ensure 60 or more votes.

Graham said Thursday that his concern about China's progress with green technology development has largely superseded earlier worries about the need for protectionist trade policies or exemptions to keep U.S. businesses from moving overseas. More important, he said, is acting decisively in the near future.

"No business enterprise, particularly in the area of utilities or manufacturing or the green economy, really knows how much to invest or how much risk to take because we're leaving them in political darkness," he said.

That darkness is a function of delays in the Senate; the House passed a climate-change bill back in June. But Graham acknowledged that the fate of the bill rests primarily with the business community itself, whose support for a bill could sway a lot of fence-sitting senators from both parties.

"I think the message needs to come more from businesspeople" than the GOP, Graham said. "I think we need to get the business community more on board for acting now and more vocal about the consequences of inaction."

Of course, the Environmental Protection Agency, which recently gained the authority to set emissions standards unilaterally, could settle the debate by itself. Graham said a primary motivator for business should be the knowledge that an EPA solution likely would not take their interests into account, whereas the Senate will go to greater lengths to please industry.

Lieberman, for his part, said that political power will be a key asset for President Obama at the upcoming international climate conference in Copenhagen, where the U.S. will lack a singular legislative proposal. "That's a very powerful tool," Lieberman said.

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