South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters he supported taxing carbon dioxide emissions to keep the Highway Trust Fund from going under and to bail out ailing nuclear power plants.
“The Highway Trust Fund is falling apart,” the Republican lawmaker told reporters at the National Clean Energy Week event in Washington, D.C. “Somebody needs to do something about it.”
Graham told reporters a carbon tax could boost highway funding as electric cars become more prevalent, according to Axios. Electric vehicles and fuel efficient cars have depressed federal and state gas tax revenues.
Graham came out in favor of a carbon tax at a Yale university event hosted by former Secretary of State John Kerry. Graham said he was working on legislation with Democratic colleagues. Graham is the first sitting GOP lawmaker to endorse a carbon tax.
Graham is working behind the scenes, he told reporters, with power companies to get them on board with taxing carbon dioxide. This could dramatically raise the price of energy from America’s most abundant sources.
“I am talking to some power companies,” Graham said. “We have got to make it good business for them. Nuclear power is far more valuable in a lower-carbon economy.”
“To the fossil fuel industry, we are going to do it in a business-friendly manner,” Graham said. “Oil and gas are with us for a while to come.”
Graham’s support for carbon taxes comes as Congress prepares to debate tax reform, one of President Donald Trump’s major priorities.
Democrats and environmentalists have long hoped to use tax reform talks as a way to pitch a carbon tax, though most GOP lawmakers are unlikely to back such legislation.
Republicans passed a party platform in 2016 that opposed global warming taxes largely on grounds that it would grow the government and raise energy prices. Trump also came out against a carbon tax on the campaign trail.
Carbon tax supporters claim that many Republicans support a carbon tax in private, but aren’t willing to go public.
“Behind closed doors there’s a lot of interest in what we are proposing,” Ted Halstead, executive director of the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), told Axios.
CLC boasts former Republican advisers and officials who back taxing carbon dioxide. The group put forward a plan for a gradually rising carbon tax that would be used to create a new welfare program to offset higher energy costs.
CLC’s plan also calls for cutting environmental regulations and income and business taxes.
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