Tonko unveils ‘framework’ for climate legislation

Source: Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 22, 2019

Rep. Paul Tonko rolled out nine principles for climate legislation, a quiet benchmark for the House Energy and Commerce Committee as it forges ahead through the climate noise.

The six-page document stays away from legislative language and speaks in broad terms about investing in clean energy technology and adaptation. Other principles include “stable and predictable policies,” empowering state and local governments, and avoiding harm to first movers.

The “framework for climate action” is a tape measure of sorts for Tonko (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, as his panel crafts climate policy over the next few years. It’s intended to help evaluate legislation as Democrats — and some Republicans — unleash a flurry of climate bills and carbon pricing proposals.

For instance, Tonko said, “if you’ve introduced something, we’ll perhaps speak to you about how to amend it in response to these principles.”

Tonko has thus far been the climate change signal-caller for the full Energy and Commerce Committee, working with Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) to set up hearings and craft a pragmatic message on the issue.

That’s made the sixth-term member an important voice in a conversation often dominated by more high-profile progressive names, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Tonko said his principles are “complementary” to the Green New Deal, the much-hyped progressive policy plan. And though Tonko is not a Green New Deal co-sponsor, the two documents are similar in the sense that they put specifics aside in favor of big goals.

Where the Green New Deal would call for a 10-year economic transition to clean energy, Tonko wants climate action to “adopt science-based targets for greenhouse gas neutrality” by 2050. Both documents call for a just economic transition for workers and communities bearing the brunt of climate change, as well as investments in energy technology and infrastructure.

Tonko made clear that in the long term he wants the free market to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The next step is to put together “carbon pricing modeling so that we can get everybody into a thoughtful discussion,” Tonko said.

“I think that should be the center of our comprehensive plan — a price on carbon,” Tonko said.

Still, the Green New Deal isn’t necessarily in conflict with a price on carbon, even if it’s a plan largely based on government investments and bolstered social safety nets. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), an early Green New Deal supporter, embraced carbon pricing yesterday at an American Council on Renewable Energy policy forum.

“Obviously there are different proposals out there in terms of carbon pricing, but to my mind, that is going to be an essential provision in the change that we need,” Raskin said.

Democrats won’t be able to do that with President Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling the Senate, but in the meantime, Tonko said the 116th Congress could chip away at the “short-term, medium-term laundry list” to address climate.

That includes boosting energy efficiency, weatherization and research programs and including provisions in an infrastructure bill to help the electric grid carry more renewable energy.

Tonko said he’s already working on a “revitalized weatherization program bill” for introduction in the “near future.”

The principles came out of an 18-month-long discussion with environmentalists, stakeholders and labor groups, aided in part by a detailed survey on his website (E&E Daily, Jan. 18).

He acknowledged that it would take another year or two at least to develop policies to meet the principles.

Broad legislation would likely be a combined effort, he said, with Green New Deal backers building grassroots support, the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis doing the congressional messaging, and the Energy and Commerce Committee bringing in the wonks.

“I see their work as very critical because they’ll be in marketing, so to speak,” Tonko said. “We’ll be in product development.”