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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Two Parties, One Climate

Air Date: Week of

David Jenkins is the Government Affairs Director for Republicans for Environmental Protection. (Courtesy of Republicans for Environmental Protection)

Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts reached across the aisle to outline a possible bipartisan path for U.S. Senate approval of climate change legislation. David Jenkins of Republicans for Environmental Protection tells host Jeff Young it’s a game changer.


YOUNG: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts - this is Living on Earth - I’m Jeff Young. Beltway pundits had declared it politically dead on arrival. But a climate change bill is starting to show signs of life in the US Senate. Committee hearings begin later this month on a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

And we just saw the first indications of a possible bipartisan path to Senate approval. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham co-authored an opinion piece with the bill’s lead sponsor, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry. It was titled, “‘Yes We Can’ pass climate change legislation.” David Jenkins has some analysis for us. Jenkins works the halls of Congress for the group Republicans for Environmental Protection. He says Senators Graham and Kerry caused quite a stir on Capitol Hill.

JENKINS: I think it’s a potential game-changer in the effort to pass climate legislation this year. For so long we’ve seen a lot of partisanship very evident when we get into some of these major issues, and Senator Graham to his credit has stepped forward and said, look this is a problem and we need to work on it together and I’m willing to step forward and try to offer constructive input into the process and try to craft something that we can pass.

YOUNG: And what are the main elements that they outline there that might make some bipartisan agreement possible?

JENKINS: They’re talking about basically sort of merging the ideas of addressing climate change with the energy security aspect of it. And from the Republican side, you know, nuclear is a very important part of that equation. Senator Graham mentioned specifically some offshore drilling components possibly as well.

But more importantly than the specifics, what we want to avoid is people just laying out markers and saying, well if it doesn’t have this, we’re gonna bolt. But what it signals is the beginning of a constructive dialog on climate, which we really didn’t have on the House side.

David Jenkins is the Government Affairs Director for Republicans for Environmental Protection. (Courtesy of Republicans for Environmental Protection)

YOUNG: All right, let’s count some votes here. How many Republicans in the Senate do you think might be swayed by the kind of bipartisan outline agreement that Senators Kerry and Graham are talking about here?

JENKINS: I don’t anyone is going to jump to the forefront right now and say, I’m in, but in terms of those that could very easily be there at the end, I think you’re talking six or seven Republicans at least. You gotta look at Senator Murkowski in Alaska; Senator Lugar in Indiana; Senator McCain, of course a very close friend of Senator Graham; Senator Snow and Collins; and there might be some others like Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, or Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

YOUNG: And tell me about Senator Lindsey Graham, do you know what it is that apparently changed his mind on this issue because he voted against climate change bills, even those brought to the floor by his good friend, Senator McCain, he voted against them. And now he’s indicating he thinks this is an important issue that needs to be addressed – what happened there?

JENKINS: Actually, Senator Graham has been saying this is an important issue that needs to be addressed for quite some time since he went to Alaska with Senator McCain and observed some of the impacts of climate change. I think what you see with Senator Graham is he’s not really willing to step up and expend political capital on lost causes; the previous times that climate legislation has come before the Senate, you had the Bush administration in the White House, you had much shakier numbers when from a standpoint of Senators willing to support this, so at that time he was convinced it wasn’t going to pass, or if it did pass it wasn’t going to be enacted into law; and there was really no reason for him to step up and be forward at that time.

But now, what I think he sees is true opportunity to pass something, and I think the fact that he’s willing to step forward now should really give a lot of confidence to those that want to pass climate legislation because he’s seeing something in the numbers that he believes he can make a difference here, and when he sees the opportunity to make a difference, he steps forward, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.



U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, (R-Alaska)


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