Tonko hints at new bills: ‘Nothing’s off the table’

Source: Adam Aton, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 22, 2019

BALTIMORE — Rep. Paul Tonko pitched industry and environment leaders here today on his new climate policy framework, a general set of principles to judge both incremental and comprehensive climate legislation.

Tonko, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, stressed that climate policies must be science-based and durable enough to reshape the market’s long-term trajectory. Those benchmarks could apply to a wide range of plans, he said.

Later this year, the New York Democrat plans to unveil a carbon pricing plan that includes energy efficiency, research, workforce development and infrastructure.

But he’s not trying to crowd out other bills, he said at the Climate Leadership Conference. “At this point, as far as I’m concerned, nothing is off the table,” Tonko said.

“Let a thousand climate and clean energy plans bloom. But as these plans grow, we will need some basis for evaluating them — a shared framework, if you prefer, in order to compare them,” he said.

Tonko’s framework is composed of nine principles, including protecting low-income households and ensuring climate policies don’t disadvantage U.S. industries.

The framework is designed to be as inclusive as possible, he said. His remarks didn’t mention the Green New Deal, but he has noted in the past that his plans could complement it (Climatewire, March 21).

It’s been 10 years since Congress last tackled climate policy, and Tonko said his framework aims to help rebuild a coalition of environmentalists, labor organizations, industry and businesses — with the end goal being a comprehensive climate bill.

“For more than a year now, we’ve been moving pieces into place to jump-start this undertaking once again,” Tonko said, adding that lawmakers have been trying to learn the lessons of carbon cap and trade’s failure, while still accounting for how the political landscape has changed since 2009.

“One thing quickly became clear: We have much more work to do to get members and staff up to speed about the full range of potential solutions and design decisions,” Tonko said.

In the short and medium terms, Tonko said, his framework will help set the table for bipartisan action in four areas: energy efficiency and weatherization, grid modernization, energy research and development, and electric vehicle infrastructure.

“I am hopeful that these four modest measures will attract bipartisan interest and support, and together they will make a meaningful difference in stemming the climate crisis. But this is only a small part of our work,” he said.

Tonko’s climate framework differs from the other major climate proposal circulating around Congress, the Green New Deal, in that it’s not written in legislative language, allows for a longer timeline and sets aside ancillary goals, such as universal health care and housing.

There’s also a difference in tone. Tonko this morning praised Republicans on his subcommittee for engaging on climate, and he said a price on carbon could marshal powerful market forces to lower emissions.

“I hear good things coming from both sides of the political aisle with our subcommittee. I think people are beginning to roll up their sleeves, but it’s going to take more than just innovation and technology,” he said.

The nine pillars of Tonko’s framework are:

  • Adopt science-based targets for greenhouse gas neutrality by midcentury.
  • Ensure that economic changes bring good working conditions while protecting energy-intensive industries from unfair foreign competition.
  • Encourage innovation in technology, policy and finance to make decarbonization cheaper.
  • Address inequities that make some communities more vulnerable to climate change.
  • Protect low-income households from disproportionate costs.
  • Strengthen resilience and adaptation.
  • Empower state, local and tribal governments to act with flexibility and support from the federal government.
  • Avoid harm to actors who have already begun to enact climate policies.
  • Create stable and predictable policies, while allowing regulators to respond to new developments.

Tonko’s presentation drew a warm response from Exelon CEO Chris Crane, who followed him on stage. “We need a whole lot more like him in Congress,” the utility executive said.