Obama-Graham partnership emerges in climate debate

Wed Mar 10, 2010 11:18pm GMT

* Senator Graham says Obama administration "reasonable"

* Some environmentalists see too many concessions

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, March 10 (Reuters) - It's rare when a conservative Republican in Congress heaps praise on President Barack Obama, especially in regards to fighting global warming, but Senator Lindsey Graham did just that on Wednesday.

The South Carolina lawmaker has, despite opposition from many in his party, worked with Obama and Democrats on a comprehensive energy and environmental bill, winning their support of more government aid for nuclear power and expanded oil and gas drilling.

Nuclear power and domestic oil production are at the core of Republican platforms.

"The president has been great to work with on energy and climate," Graham, a two-term senator, told reporters.

"I want to say this about the administration. They've been very reasonable on offshore drilling and nuclear power and they've been very reasonable at looking at a different way to price carbon."

But for most Republicans in Congress, the concessions won by Graham do not offset the impact of Democratic moves to also impose carbon dioxide pollution controls on utilities, factories and oil refineries.

Republicans say the federal government under Obama is out of control and embracing policies, such as the stalled climate legislation, that kill jobs and increase costs for businesses and consumers.

Some Republicans in South Carolina moved to censure Graham last year for saying that he would work with liberal Democratic Senator John Kerry on a compromise bill to deal with climate change.

U.S. Representative Joe Barton summed up the Republican view of climate change legislation when he said last year: "We're not going to let jobs be destroyed in America for some esoteric environmental benefit 100 years from now."

Graham, who talks of marrying "business and environmental" policy, creating energy independence and "literally cleaning up the air," joined a dozen other senators on Tuesday at a White House meeting with Obama on climate change legislation.

"The president was great yesterday," he added.

In the past Graham's relations with the White House have not been as warm. He played a central role in Republican moves to impeach Democratic President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.

Graham also actively campaigned for Senator John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign against Obama.

It's unclear whether the Obama-Graham partnership will help pass a climate change bill in the Senate this year, where Senator John Rockefeller of West Virginia and others from coal-producing and coal-using states are dug in against it.

Several lawmakers, including Graham, have said the bitter battle over Obama's effort to push through an overhaul of the $2.5 trillion healthcare system could doom chances of accomplishing any other major initiatives.

Republicans are lined up against the healthcare legislation and continue to criticize Obama for pushing through an $800 billion economic stimulus package last year.

Kerry and Obama also are mindful if they go too far in Graham's direction, they may alienate liberal Democrats and environmentalists.

Clean Air Watch President Frank O'Donnell, referring to industry lobbyists' meetings with Kerry, Graham and independent Senator Joseph Lieberman, said: "The appearance is the senators have kissed so many polluter rings that a residue of soot has been left on the lips."

(Editing by Paul Simao)