In conversation with Sen. Lindsey Graham

The Republican Senator talks carbon capture and storage, tells Canada’s oil patch to stop worrying about coming U.S. environmental regulations

090922_sengrahamLast week, Lindsey Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina, swept through Saskatchewan, where he spoke about carbon capture and storage, uranium enrichment and cap and trade with Premier Brad Wall. In a conversation with Maclean’s, Graham sought to assure Canadians, and Albertans in particular, of a growing acceptance among Americans of oil sands energy. Graham also discussed why Canada should stay in Afghanistan after 2011, why it should continue investing in carbon capture and storage technology, and why Saskatchewan should be permitted to enrich its uranium.

Q: What convinced you to make the long trip to Regina?
A: Well, I met Brad, the premier, when he was making his D.C. round. I’m a Republican who believes that climate change is a reality—that CO2 emissions are heating up the planet. But I’m also an energy independence guy, and I want to work with the administration and my colleagues on the Democratic side to find a way forward on energy independence and a reasonable cap-and-trade system. Carbon sequestration is the key to anything you want to do when you talk about getting away from fossil fuels or controlling CO2 emissions. And Saskatchewan is where the action is.

Q: A criticism with regards to carbon capture and storage, among many, is that it’s a pipe dream, it’s going to be very expensive to implement and even when you do, it’s difficult to monitor over the course of many years. What have you seen in Saskatchewan that convinces you that perhaps those naysayers are wrong?
A: Saskatchewan and Alberta are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to carbon sequestration. Those investments have attracted some of the brightest people in the world, and the governments of the world—including the United States government. Saskatchewan’s successes are encouraging. It’s not a done deal but what’s [being done at the Weyburn-Midale CO2 Project] in Saskatchewan is pretty good evidence that carbon sequestration not only is doable but affordable and practical.

Q: As you know I’m talking to you from Alberta, home of the oil sands.
A: And you’ve got the same problem there.

Q: Maybe a bigger one, because the oil sands have a bad reputation among some Americans, for example.
A: Not for me. Henry Waxman, yes, Lindsey Graham, no. Some people say it’s dirty. Not efficient. It is a source of energy that needs to be explored and the United States should accept it, because every drop of oil that we can receive from our friends in Canada is one less we have to buy from people who don’t like us.

Q: So should Albertans who are involved in developing the oil sands be concerned about legislation like Waxman-Markey?
A: Yes. Because [the Democrats] control the senate. The energy climate has changed at home, people are dying to become more energy independent, and some of the environmentalists have changed their tune a bit. I believe that in 2010 there will be more Republicans [in the Senate] and that the chances of bringing about balance and being able to accept their product is going to go up over time, not down. I think the future’s on your side when it comes to your U.S. neighbours accepting your products.

Q: You don’t see it passing the Senate?
A: You got it. It only narrowly passed the House. And that means that the bill lost a lot of Democrats. But, the administration understands that. They’re working with different groups, Republicans and Democrats, to marry some ideas. I think there are some people in the Senate who are not sold on climate change but really would like to be energy independent. So if you had an aggressive proposal to build more nuclear power plants and to drill offshore, that would get you some votes. The only way to pass a cap-and-trade system is to marry that with energy-independence ideas.

Q: What does all that mean for Canada, specifically Alberta?
A: Whatever technological breakthroughs you have on carbon sequestration, you’re going to get your money back. Because the technology you’re developing we’re going to buy.

Q: One of the worries among Albertans in the oil patch is that whatever legislation comes about, if the Canadian government doesn’t bring in very similar legislation, there’s going to be a problem with tariffs.
A: That’s always a problem. That’s where NAFTA and all these other things hopefully will have some benefit. Is it a concern? I’m sure it is. But I would just say the future’s on your side.

Q: What role does Canada play in the future of carbon-capture and storage in your country?
A: You’re the incubator. You’re the ones testing the waters. And the reason you’re doing [carbon capture and storage] in Saskatchewan and Alberta is because you have to. You have received a burden from your government that we haven’t placed on our coal economy.

Q: You’re in Saskatchewan so I have to ask, what’s the future of uranium in Saskatchewan, do you think you’re going to see us enrich it soon?
A: If you’re serious about trying to solve the climate-change problem, then you have to pursue nuclear power. Isn’t Saskatchewan the leading supplier of uranium to the world? If I had a product like that, I would look at trying to make it even more marketable.

Q: Are there things on the world stage that you would like to see Canada do or do differently? What about Afghanistan?
A: I wish the Canadian people would consider not only staying longer than 2011 but also consider the consequences of what happens if NATO fails. NATO has chosen this fight. And if the alliance breaks, and the will of the NATO nations is seen to be less than that of the enemy, it could be the beginning of the end of NATO as an effective military organization. I would hope that the Canadian government and people would understand the value NATO has provided to the free world for well over 50 years. The reputation and the effectiveness of NATO is at stake in Afghanistan.

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