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SC Senate policy stakes: Graham, Harrison agree on climate change, differ on approach

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Few states are as vulnerable to the threat of climate change as South Carolina, and both of the major candidates running to represent it in the U.S. Senate say the want to confront it and conserve the Palmetto State's environment, but with differing approaches.

Republican incumbent Lindsey Graham and Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison also clash on the best way to halt offshore drilling and the regulation process for federal infrastructure permits.

Both candidates say they oppose the Green New Deal, a sweeping proposal to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Harrison initially indicated support for it last year, but he said then that he was still looking into the details and, now that he has reviewed it, believes it is "not feasible."

This is the third installment of an eight-part series in The Post and Courier over the coming months leading up to the election that will lay out the policy views of Graham and Harrison on issues that matter most to South Carolina voters.

The responses to this candidate questionnaire have been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

Do you support or oppose offshore drilling and seismic testing? Would you support a federal ban on offshore drilling or do you believe it should be left up to the states to decide?

Graham: Unlike Jaime Harrison, who adheres to Nancy Pelosi’s Washington-knows-best approach to governing, I believe South Carolina should have the ultimate say in who controls any oil and gas deposits off our coast. I have been clear that the citizens of South Carolina, through our state legislature and governor, should have absolute veto power over any oil and gas exploration within 25 miles of the South Carolina coastline. Jaime Harrison may be comfortable turning important decisions like this over to self described "mentor" Nancy Pelosi, but I’m not. At the end of the day, South Carolinians should decide our fate.

Harrison: Lindsey Graham has wavered on this, but I won’t: We need to ban offshore drilling. A spill off our beaches would destroy jobs and harm the coastal environment that makes South Carolina beautiful. In 2018, tourism brought nearly $24 billion into South Carolina and supported one in 10 jobs here. This is personal for so many people. Quite simply, it is not worth the risk. That’s what makes leadership so important. But that’s not what we are getting from Lindsey Graham, who stayed silent recently as the federal government green-lighted seismic testing off our beaches. He has voted for offshore drilling and is a reliable vote for nominees who make it their mission to allow drilling off our coast.

How grave do you believe the threat of man-made climate change is to the future of South Carolina? What do you believe Congress should do about it? Do you support the Green New Deal?

Graham: I believe climate change is real and we should take steps to address the threat. I’m a founding member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus with U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. This group is working together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with innovative solutions coming from the private sector. Clean energy is a high priority for the working group along with substantial investments in research and development to ensure the next generation of climate change solutions originate in the United States. I strongly believe that combating greenhouse gases will lead to energy innovations and a cleaner and health environment that will create thousands of jobs in the new energy economy. However, I will adamantly oppose the Green New Deal. It would cost our state an estimated 67,000 jobs and the average family at least $400 a year.

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Harrison: South Carolina is on the front lines of this man-made crisis. More than 25 percent of our population live in coastal areas under threat from sea level rise. Flooding and extreme weather events have become more frequent in the Lowcountry and throughout our coast. The situation demands that we act swiftly and decisively. When I’m elected to the U.S. Senate, I will fight hard to cut emissions by transitioning to cleaner energy sources, which would spur massive job growth. We also need to upgrade and fortify our roads, bridges, and flood control systems to withstand our new climate reality. But proposals like the Green New Deal are not sound policy. It’s expensive, not feasible and highly partisan.

What forms of energy do you believe America should be focusing its investments on moving forward?

Graham: I support making substantial investments in groundbreaking technology, which has the power to create jobs in South Carolina and protect the environment.  As a founding member of the bipartisan Senate Climate Solution Caucus, we are exploring ways to promote wind, solar, nuclear power and emerging technologies that have real potential to make a difference in cleaning our environment. I have made it a priority through my work in the Senate to ensure South Carolina is a leader when it comes to the development of clean energy. Clemson (University) is pioneering windmill technology in the Charleston area, the Savannah River Site has been at the forefront of the drive towards a hydrogen economy, the rural electric co-ops have been leaders when it comes to energy efficiency. I want to continue and build upon these successes. Jaime Harrison fully embraces top-down regulatory mandates that will halt innovation. 

Harrison: The status quo has not been working in our fight against climate change, which threatens our state’s way of life with sea level rise, increased flooding and more costly extreme weather events. America can win the global energy race of the future, but only if we act boldly. We can and should seize the massive economic opportunity of leading the world in clean energy, by making investments that would create countless high-paying jobs and clean up our air and water in the process. Sen. Graham has talked about climate change, but has yet to deliver anything for South Carolina, even though over one in four residents live along the coast.

The Senate's “Thirty by Thirty" resolution calls on the federal government to set a goal of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and at least 30 percent of ocean areas by the year 2030. Do you support that?

Graham: I have been one of the leaders in making funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent and worked in a bipartisan way to create incentives and funding for industries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without imposing strict mandates. I am one of the founders of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus in the Senate, which seeks to restore Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation legacy. We’ve been dealt a good hand in South Carolina when it comes to nature. I want to protect and conserve for future generations of South Carolinians balancing the needs of our environment with the needs of our economy.  

Harrison: If elected, I would support the goals in this resolution. Nature in its current state is at a tipping point. Climate change is threatening ecosystems in South Carolina, while making it less safe and more costly to live along our coastline. Part of what makes South Carolina so beautiful is the land we conserve for wildlife and for future generations. Congaree National Park, our wildlife refuges and the 47 state parks that touch so many communities here attract tourists, make our residents healthier, and provide countless opportunities for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities. We have to do more to protect our natural resources and make sure we are conserving beautiful places for the benefits of future generations.

The Trump administration has gutted the National Environment Policy Act, a bedrock conservation law that ensures public review of federal infrastructure projects. The president has argued that it will cut "mountains and mountains of red tape" in the permitting process. Critics counter that it will severely limit the voice of regular citizens in major projects that will impact them, including in South Carolina. What role do you believe citizens’ voices should have in fighting federal permits they oppose?

Graham: Jaime Harrison wants to return us to the Obama years when it was routine to hear horror stories from countless South Carolina manufacturers, farmers, and innovators about investments foregone and opportunities passed by due to the threat of burdensome regulations. Prior to the pandemic, the results of the Trump Administration efforts were clear with a booming economy and incomes rising for South Carolinians across the board. With me as senator, South Carolinians have a substantial voice in challenging Washington. I overcame bureaucratic opposition to lead the charge to deepen the harbor in Charleston. I have helped thousands of constituents overcome bureaucracy to get permits or casework solved. 

Harrison: Weakening implementation of the National Environment Policy Act takes power out of the hands of those most threatened by a project. Too often, poorer communities bear the brunt of environmental harm in the name of financial success enjoyed by others. Impoverished families are more likely to live in neighborhoods near industrial facilities that can make air harder to breathe and water less safe to drink. The same goes for massive road expansions, which can increase air pollution like smog. I support streamlining where it makes sense, but permitting decisions should be made with the meaningful input of those impacted.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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