Senator Lugar’s Loss is a Loss for U.S. Energy Security
A Moderate Willing to Work With Both Sides
I just wanted to take a quick moment to lament the loss of Senator Lugar to the Senate. He lost his Republican Primary election for the Indiana Senate seat last night by an astonishing 21 points. The issues of energy and environmental security, especially in how they affect America’s foreign policy, were central to his 36 years in the Senate. There were many other factors that helped bring him down — his age, the fact that he no longer lived in Indiana, and his votes on TARP and President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees.
Senator Lugar played a unique role in American energy and environmental policy because his position has really marked the center of American politics on these issues. That means that he’s been willing to work with both sides to get things done, and it also means that his views have shifted as the country’s views have shifted.
When I worked in the Senate, I had the opportunity to work with his staff on the Foreign Relations Committee, and there were few people anywhere on the Hill who were more professional. They simply were interested in seeking the best solutions on important issues, regardless of whether that solution came from the right of the left. One of my proudest moments was working to introduce and pass legislation for a clean-energy bank — now operated through the World Bank — that helps to fund clean energy development around the world. This truly was bipartisan, introduced by Senators Lugar, Biden, Menendez, and Hagel (my boss at the time). I am afraid, however, that this election marks the end of such solution-oriented legislating for a long time.
Climate Change & Energy Security
On climate change policy, you can see by his votes how the issue has moved from something that both sides, including the ’08 Republican Party nominee, expressed concern about, to something that truly is toxic for most Republicans to even talk about. He lamented in his astonishing statement — which reads like Jerry McGuire’s late night manifesto — that some topics have become politically unmentionable, and especially: “Republicans cannot admit to any nuance in policy on climate change.” However, it can hardly be said that he was a leader on climate; instead, while expressing concerns, he followed the Republican Party’s move away from climate action. While he voted for the McCain/Lieberman amendments in ’03 and ’05 that would have created a declining cap on carbon, he voted against the ’08 Lieberman/Warner legislation, as well as signaling that he would have voted against the ’10 Kerry/Graham/Lieberman climate bill had it ever been brought to the floor.
On energy security issues, however, he can claim to have been a real leader. Since even the 1990’s, when gas prices were low and Americans didn’t worry about where the energy came from, he has worried about the national security implications of relying on imported oil. He is one of the few to whom this really is a strategic issue, not an issue which waxes and wanes in importance based on the price at the pump. He has consistently supported alternatives to oil, whether it is ethanol, electric cars, or next-generation biofuels while also pressing for more energy development and infrastructure here at home. One of the issues that he has been pushing over the last 6 months, as a way of differentiating himself, is the Keystone XL pipeline. He has strongly pushed for it, and has touted that as a major area of difference.
Senator Lugar defined the center of American energy politics. As the Republican Party continues to eat its own by purging the party of Moderates, I am afraid that there will be fewer and fewer opportunities for developing an actual national energy policy. He was one of the real statesmen, and he will be missed.