South Carolina lawmakers make green energy pitch

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham joined Democratic Reps. Jim Clyburn and John Spratt on Wednesday in introducing bipartisan legislation to provide $4.9 billion in federal loans for rural power consumers to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient.

The three members of Congress from South Carolina said the idea for the low-interest green loans was first developed by the heads of electric cooperatives in the state and then promoted by House Majority Whip Clyburn.

"The legislation we're introducing today will take South Carolina's ideas nationwide," Clyburn told reporters at a Capitol Hill briefing.

Clyburn credited Michael Couick, head of the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina, with originating the approach in the measure. The Columbia Democrat then pitched the bill to Graham.

"Jim brought this to me," said Graham, a Seneca Republican. "I just thought it was a marvelous idea. This is great policy when you can take a relatively small amount of federal dollars, invest it in the economy and empower people to help themselves."

The measure would bring $70 million in low-interest loans over a decade to 700,000 households and businesses in South Carolina that use power distributed by 20 electric co-ops.

"This legislation will create jobs, save American businesses and families on their electric bill and reduce pollution," Clyburn said.

Clyburn's aides said the measure would lead to the creation of 4,750 permanent jobs in South Carolina over a decade, 2,100 of them in the first year.

Customers would pay off the loans through monthly charges on their electric bills that the legislation's backers say would be more than offset by reduced power usage through installing insulation, double-paned windows, heat pumps and other energy-efficient products.

"This is a super deal for rural electric consumers," Spratt said. "It's what government is all about — helping people help themselves. It will lower energy bills and create jobs. It's a win-win for South Carolina."

Spratt, a York Democrat, is chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Couick and Graham said the measure would help make the United States less dependent on foreign oil by reducing power usage.

Lifting a roll of pink fiberglass insulation that served as a prop for the briefing, Couick turned toward Graham.

"Senator Graham, you're fighting terrorism when you support this legislation," Couick said.

The initiative is another step in Graham's evolving status as one of a small number of congressional Republicans who backs stronger environmental controls, which he believes will create jobs in an expanding green economy.

Graham is helping craft separate legislation to put a price on carbon emissions in order to help slow climate change.

Graham joined Richard Lugar of Indiana as the two Senate Republican co-sponsors of the green-loans bill. They introduced it in the Senate along with Democratic Sens. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

Clyburn and Spratt introduced the House version of the measure. Joining them as co-sponsors were Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia and Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky.

The green-loans bill is an increasingly rare example of bipartisan cooperation in Congress, which is deadlocked over health care reform, terror trials and other major issues.

Gesturing toward his two fellow South Carolinians, Graham said: "To my good friends Jim Clyburn and John Spratt, it shows what is possible in Congress when people who know each other and who like each other work together."