U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney laid into the coal industry and lamented the lack of Republican voices on climate change during a recent interview with USA Today.
He also promised to back a carbon tax in the next Congress.
The Naples Republican spoke with the newspaper about his continued work with the Climate Solutions Caucus. But he acknowledged the difficulty in rallying support within the GOP for action on the environment.
In the new Congress, Rooney plans to reintroduce a proposal for a carbon tax, something he pushed for last year along with Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch and Charlie Crist.
“A carbon tax is the most market-oriented, non-bureaucratic, efficient way I can see to kill off coal,” Rooney said.
He made no secret of a desire to end the coal-burning industry entirely: “We can still continue to become cleaner and incentivize cleaner fuels,” he said. “We have so much natural gas. There’s no reason to burn coal.”
Florida doesn’t depend on coal the way many mountain states do. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports the state relies more on natural gas and motor gasoline. Coal in 2016 was responsible for 426 trillion BTUs of energy use in 2016, compared to 1.4 quadrillion BTUs produced through natural gas the same year.
But Rooney acknowledged at the federal level that coal still holds significant influence.
And the blue wave in November ironically cost the jobs of many moderate and environmentally conscious Republicans, including outgoing Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a leading voice on climate change.
Rooney said with President Donald Trump denying the existence of climate change, including dismissing a report from his own administration last year, it can be difficult talking science on the red side of the aisle.
“A lot of people do not want to disagree with the President on anything,” Rooney said.
Of course, Rooney, who introduced Trump at a Fort Myers rally shortly before the November elections, stressed he’s aligned with Trump on most issues.
The former ambassador praised Trump’s renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement and touted progress on the Korean peninsula, and expressed his support for the president’s dealings with China.
But he said Republicans will suffer politically if they continue to ignore climate problems.
“If you look at the last election, our base is narrowing, unfortunately,” he said. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with environmental issues or not but I talk to our young people all the time and they are more environmentally sensitive.”