Rep. Paul Tonko of N.Y. replaces Green on critical House subpanel

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rep. Paul Tonko of New York will replace Rep. Gene Green of Texas as the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, potentially ushering in a new focus on renewable energy technologies.

Although Green decided to step aside to focus on health issues as a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, the conservative oil-patch lawmaker will continue to sit on the Environment and Economy Subcommittee, just not as ranking member.

“I chose to sit on the Subcommittee on Health because health care has always been a big priority of mine,” Green said in a statement. “I sat on the committee in the 111th Congress and worked on the Affordable Care Act, which was critical to my district because we have one of the highest rates of uninsured adults in the entire nation.”

Tonko is an ardent supporter of clean energy power and federal incentives and has crafted legislation to improve gas turbine efficiency, authorize wind energy research and development, encourage combined heat and power, advance fuel cell applications, create tax credits for waste heat recapture and require oil companies drilling on public lands to disclose campaign contributions.

Before being elected to Congress in 2008, Tonko, an engineer by training, served as CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, a state agency focused on reducing energy consumption and boosting the use of renewable power in the state while protecting the environment. He also spent 16 years as head of the New York State Assembly’s Energy Committee and is a member of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, a caucus in the House that aims to bolster “green collar” jobs while improving the environment.

As the ranking Democrat on the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight last Congress, Tonko voiced support for production tax credits, federal loan guarantees and benefits for renewable energy properties. Notably, his Albany-area district includes companies like solar manufacturer Monolith Solar Associates LLC, which used the Energy Department’s Section 1603 grant program to succeed in the Northeast.

Green, on the other hand, is seen as a more conservative Democrat closely tied to the industries in his district, which encompasses five refineries and numerous chemical and industrial plants.

But Green has also brokered bipartisan deals and in 2009 backed House climate legislation after Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), then chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, removed a low-carbon fuel standard (E&E Daily, May 18, 2009).

Tonko’s focus on clean energy will play a critical role as Illinois Rep. John Shimkus (R), the subcommittee’s chairman, homes in on fracking, coal ash and nuclear waste issues in the 113th Congress (E&E Daily, Jan. 4).

In other Energy and Commerce shuffling, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois will replace Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) as the ranking member on the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.

Schakowsky has joined Democratic Reps. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon in demanding that the Food and Drug Administration step up its oversight of products, including hair straighteners that release toxic formaldehyde when heated (E&E Daily, Dec. 11, 2012).

Maintaining their top positions on the subpanels were Energy and Power Subcommittee ranking member Bobby Rush of Illinois, Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo of California, Health Subcommittee ranking member Frank Pallone of New Jersey, and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee ranking member Diana DeGette of Colorado.

Georgia Rep. John Barrow is the committee’s only new Democratic member, and he will be serving on the Energy and Power; Environment and the Economy; Health; and Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade subcommittees. Barrow has strong backing from the nuclear industry, as Georgia is home to the first U.S. reactors in more than three decades and Barrow is a member of the bipartisan Nuclear Issues Working Group (Greenwire, Oct. 19, 2012).