After nearly a year of treating Sen. Lindsey Graham as perhaps their closest ally on the Republican side of the aisle, environmental groups are ready to turn their fire on the South Carolina lawmaker.
A three-page memo acquired by E&E Daily that has been circulating around the environmental community indicates that advocacy groups are poised to launch an aggressive campaign against their one-time ally that will paint him as a "flip-flopper" on climate and energy policy.
"We've watched as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has gone from being a supporter of comprehensive climate and energy plan to vocal critic," states the memo. "Now Graham is working overtime with his Republican colleagues to kill any meaningful legislation.
"We are tired of Graham saying one thing and doing another," the memo adds. "It is imperative we hold his feet to the fire and showcase his many flip-flops to the media, Beltway pundits, congressional staffers, and our key allies working to pass a bill."
The memo outlines nine bullet-pointed "core messages" and several examples of Graham's contradictory statements on carbon pricing, offshore drilling, an "energy only" bill and immigration, among other issues.
"We encourage you to actively use and promote these points to go on the offensive and damage his credibility," the memo states.
"Senator Graham's two-faced commentary speaks volumes on the blatant hypocrisy of his new 'epiphany' on clean energy legislation and his lack of conviction on this vital issue," states one of the bullet points.
Another says, "In the wake of the worst environmental disaster in our nation's history and in light of Senator Graham's appalling apathy, it's clear that he's just another politician willing to say and do anything to please powerful polluters."
Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said environmentalists have treated Graham with kid gloves. "I've seen a little bit of criticism ... but I don't think there has been any kind of a wholesale environmentalist negative commentary about the guy, and he probably deserves more than he's gotten," O'Donnell said.
Already one group -- the American Values Network, a faith-based organization -- has gone on the air with an ad campaign in the D.C. market that states that Graham has "flipped" on climate legislation, including on the question of whether climate change is the result of human activity (Greenwire, June 16).
A Graham spokesman said attacks against the senator's efforts are old hat.
"In spite of sustained criticism by environmental groups, Senator Graham remains steadfast in his belief that real America supports meaningful energy independence policy paired with good clean air policy," said spokesman Kevin Bishop. "Whether it's his support for the expansion of nuclear energy, domestic oil drilling, or pre-empting the EPA from issuing regulations on carbon emissions, we're used to taking their slings and arrows."
Graham has long been viewed as a potential fence-sitter on comprehensive climate legislation because of his long-standing friendship with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). But Graham moved to the forefront of the climate change debate last fall when he and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) penned a New York Times op-ed in which they outlined the principles of a potential bipartisan climate bill that included increased offshore drilling and carbon caps.
Graham then spent several months working with both Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a bill that at one time appeared to be the central component of any Senate effort on climate and energy. The trio were even poised to unveil a draft version of the bill in late April when Graham backed out of the effort because of competing concerns over immigration politics.
Eventually, Kerry and Lieberman introduced a bill last month without Graham's support or presence. Environmental groups, however, largely continued to say mostly positive things about the South Carolina Republican, believing that they could bring him back into the fold once immigration and other political issues were resolved.
Those views, however, have changed as Graham presented his ideas for a compromise bill that he believed could serve as the blueprint for bipartisan action in 2011 and has again and again said he could not support the Kerry-Lieberman effort. Graham also signed on as a backer of a competing bill by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that did not include a cap-and-trade system, saying that bill had the best chance of getting 60 votes this year.
Environmentalists saw the endorsement as a betrayal, pointing to comments from Graham slamming a "half-assed energy bill" approach that did not include a cap on greenhouse gas emission.
"This is well beyond the half-assed standard," Graham said earlier this month in defending his support for the Lugar bill. "Significant contributions are made to lower emissions. Significant gains are made in terms of jump-starting the alternative energy economy" (E&ENews PM, June 9).
Graham is scheduled to attend next week's energy bill meeting at the White House.
Earlier this month, Graham also suggested Congress should establish a new commission to study the nation's energy policy options, including the consequences of the oil spill, growing the highway account and the prospects for regulating carbon. "This could be another commission that goes into the history bins of commissions that didn't do anything. Or it could be some smart people giving us a road map for how to move forward," Graham said (E&E Daily, June 11).
Regardless of Graham's most recent comments, O'Donnell noted that climate bill advocates cannot afford to burn any bridges, especially with Republicans willing to cooperate with Democrats on the energy issue.
"I think folks accurately see that there are so few Republicans even willing to engage on any positive way on this issue that they can't afford to write anyone off," O'Donnell said.
Click here to read the memo.
Reporter Robin Bravender contributed.