Where the Candidates Stand On Energy: Republican Nominee for South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham

In this blog, we examine the policies and positions of Lindsey Graham, the incumbent Senator and Republican nominee for South Carolina's Senator. Also in this series we profile Jaime Harrison, the Democratic nominee for the seat.

Chris Carnevale | September 4, 2020 | Elections, Energy Policy, South Carolina
Graphic: Where Lindsey Graham Stands on Climate and Energy

This post is part of a series of blogs examining where 2020 Southeastern candidates for state and federal offices stand on key energy and climate issues. Note: The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy does not support or oppose candidates or political parties. Links to reports, candidate websites and outside sources are provided as citizen education tools.


In this blog, we examine the policies and positions of Lindsey Graham, the incumbent Senator and Republican nominee for U.S. Senator for South Carolina. Also in this series, we profile Jaime Harrison, the Democratic nominee for the seat.

Lindsey Graham grew up in Central, South Carolina, attended D. W. Daniel High School, majored in psychology at the University of South Carolina, and earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law. He served in the United States Air Force in several legal roles as an officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, received a Bronze Star medal, and has been a member of the South Carolina Air National Guard. He served one term in the South Carolina House of Representatives, four terms in the United States House of Representatives, and has served three terms in the United States Senate. His campaign website is lindseygraham.com.

Given Graham’s long tenure in Congress, we cannot touch on every single issue or vote he has taken part in, however we will bring up examples demonstrating his positions in the sections below.

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

In May 2018, Senator Graham sent a letter with other GOP Senators to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in opposition to the Trump Administration’s tariffs on imported solar panels. This opposition was pro-solar and sought to keep costs for solar lower and promote solar business in the midst of the Trump Administration’s trade war with China.

In the April 2016 considerations of the Energy Policy and Modernization Act, Senator Graham voted to support a bill amendment that would allow savings from energy efficiency to be taken into account in the mortgage lending process for FHA-backed loans; voted against an amendment that would have added delays to the Clean Line wind energy transmission project; and voted against an amendment that would have tasked the Treasury Secretary with studying the implementation of Clean Energy Victory Bonds to serve as a source of financing for the federal government’s transition to clean energy.

In January 2015, Senator Graham voted to reject amendments to the Keystone XL pipeline bill that would have enacted a national renewable electricity standard and extended tax credits for renewable energy development.

Climate Change

Graham has said for many years that action needs to be taken to mitigate climate change, however, his voting record is inconsistent in promoting or supporting pro-climate policies.

In June 2020, Senator Graham announced co-sponsorship of the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create programs for farmers to participate in carbon offset markets through agricultural carbon sequestration in soils, forests, and methane capture.

In May 2017, Senator Graham voted against scrapping federal regulations for methane pollution from oil and gas drilling on public lands.

In 2016 fiscal year federal budget negotiations, Senator Graham voted to support Sen. Bernie Sanders’ amendment affirming the human-caused nature of climate change and calling for Congressional action; voted to support Sen. Michael Bennett’s amendment, calling for addressing  climate change through clean energy, energy efficiency, and reduction of carbon pollution; and voted to prohibit Congress from enacting a carbon pricing mechanism via an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt.

In 2014 fiscal year federal budget negotiations, Senator Graham voted to support an amendment by Sen. Jim Inhofe to cut funding from federal agencies for cutting carbon pollution and voted to support an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt to prohibit Congress from enacting a carbon pricing mechanism.

Senator Graham’s record shows he is opposed to carbon pollution being regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), instead preferring Congressional action to reduce carbon. He voted in June 2010 to fundamentally undermine EPA’s ability to regulate climate pollution and voted in April 2011 to block the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing greenhouse gas regulations.

In 2009-10, while President Obama was prioritizing climate legislation as a top priority and the House of Representatives had passed the Waxman-Markey American Climate and Energy Security Act, Graham publicly positioned himself as a champion for bipartisan compromise legislation, alongside collaborators Sens. Joseph Lieberman and John Kerry. The three Senators negotiated for months to try to find a compromise that would pass the Senate with 60 votes, but Senator Graham pulled his support of the compromise bill days before its scheduled unveiling, so it was never formally introduced.

Electric Transportation

We were unable to confirm the candidate’s position on this energy-related issue in published media, public records, or the campaign website.

Energy Equity and Energy Burden

We were unable to confirm the candidate’s position on this energy-related issue in published media, public records, or the campaign website.

High-Risk Energy (Coal, Nuclear, Oil, Gas)

Offshore drilling – Senator Graham supports drilling for oil and gas off of South Carolina’s coast. In 2012, he championed the South Carolina Offshore Drilling Act, which would have brought oil drilling as close as 10 miles to South Carolina’s shores. However, in a recent interview with the Charleston Post & Courier, Graham said he thinks that South Carolina’s state government should have veto power over any drilling sited within 25 miles of shore. For reference, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was more than 50 miles off of Louisiana’s shoreline. In 2012, Senator Graham voted for Sen. David Vitter’s amendment to the Senate transportation bill that would have expanded offshore drilling along the Virginia, Florida, and California coasts. In 2011, Senator Graham voted for a bill that would have jumpstarted drilling in the Atlantic, specifically off of Virginia’s coast.

Oil and gas pipelines – Graham has been a consistent and strong supporter of interstate and international oil pipelines. He voted to advance the Keystone XL in 2015 and applauded President Trump’s 2017 executive order to overturn the Obama Administration’s denial of permits for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Graham voted in favor of legislation that would open the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling a via an amendment by Sen. Pat Roberts to the Senate transportation bill in 2012. The amendment would have also approved the Keystone XL pipeline.

Nuclear – Senator Graham has been a consistent booster of nuclear energy, particularly in relation to the nuclear projects in South Carolina that were under construction for many of the last 10 to 15 years. Senator Graham’s office has called him “one of the strongest supporters of nuclear energy in the Congress.” When Congress debated bills to act on climate change early in the Obama’s presidency, Senator Graham pushed hard for nuclear energy to play a central role in a lower carbon energy portfolio. When the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced a bill to set a national renewable electricity standard in 2010, Senator Graham responded by introducing a different version–the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2010, which would allow nuclear (as well as fossil fuel energy) to count as clean energy for the purposes of meeting the standard. In February 2010, Graham applauded the Obama Administrations offer of $8 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear construction. A press release from Senator Graham in March 2012 responding to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of licenses for the new nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer power plant is descriptive of Senator Graham’s position on new nuclear energy:

“I have long pushed for a renaissance in nuclear energy. Before February of this year (2012) we hadn’t built a new nuclear reactor in the United States in more than thirty years. Now, in the last seven weeks we have had major breakthrough with the licensing of four new reactors. This is a long-overdue and much welcomed change in policy. We worked for years to see these reactors approved and I’m very pleased this long-sought goal has finally been achieved. The construction of two new reactors will be an over $10 billion dollar project and represents one of the largest investments in South Carolina history. The renaissance in American nuclear energy has begun. And as long-time advocate for nuclear energy, I could not be more pleased to see South Carolina at the forefront to this revival.”

In the wake of the cancellation of the disastrous V.C. Summer nuclear project in 2017, Senator Graham called for a renewed push to complete the project, saying “Revitalizing the nuclear industry is a priority to me. Twenty percent of our power [nationally] comes from nuclear power plants. They are all old and they’re aging. I would like to build new ones all over the country.” Similarly, in 2018, Graham called for a nuclear renaissance in South Carolina, saying “We’re going to do more, not less, on the nuclear side.”

Senator Graham was one of the strongest supporters of the now-cancelled MOX nuclear fuel project at the Savannah River Site, which sought to turn legacy plutonium from Cold War nuclear weaponry into fuel for nuclear power plants.

If you are interested in learning more about where your state’s candidates for federal and state office stand on energy, click here to access the entire 2020 blog series. We encourage readers to register to vote well before registration deadlines, which are in early October but vary by state, and vote in the general election on or before November 3, 2020. For voting information in South Carolina, including updates about the impact of COVID-19 on voting, click here. Stay tuned for more posts in this series to come!



Chris Carnevale
Chris is SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help with building public understanding and engagement around clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Chris…
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