With a Democratic White House and Democrats in control on Capitol Hill, calls to combat climate change in Washington have gained renewed energy.
But while the Green New Deal and President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan have grabbed headlines, an upstate New York congressmember in a key leadership position is pushing a plan he argues will make a big difference: the CLEAN Future Act.
Rep. Paul Tonko, a Albany area Democrat who chairs a House subcommittee focused on environmental and climate change matters, has hosted a series of hearings on his nearly 1,000 page bill.
The proposal would spend $565 billion over a decade, with money for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, zero-emission school buses, clean energy and climate resiliency.
The goal, per a summary provided by Tonko’s office, is to create a “100% clean economy with net zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050.”
“This is an expensive proposal, but it will create jobs that will put people to work. And it will strengthen our regional economy, the state economy and the national economy,” Tonko said in an interview.
Meanwhile, the White House is making its case for a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure plan that includes climate spending. Tonko argues his bill complements President Biden’s ideas.
Republicans, though, have pushed back on parts of Tonko’s proposal, arguing it could cost Americans jobs and hurt the fossil fuel industry.
“The Clean Future Act is going to increase the cost of energy and make it practically impossible to build new industrial facilities,” said Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton at a recent hearing about the bill.
Whether or not any of Tonko’s climate ideas can get done in a closely divided Washington is the big question. One potential avenue, environmental advocates argue, is incorporating some of Tonko’s ideas into Biden’s larger infrastructure plan, giving those proposals a pathway to enactment if Democrats choose to go it alone to get that bill passed, like they did with the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill earlier this year.
“There is a lot of alignment between what's in the Clean Future Act and what the president has outlined in the American Jobs Plan. And that's great,” said Matthew Davis, senior director of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters.
Davis called Tonko’s bill one of the “biggest” and “boldest” pieces of climate legislation introduced in the House in some time.
Tonko previously introduced a draft version of the CLEAN Future Act last Congress, though the dynamics in Washington have changed dramatically since then, with Democrats winning control of the White House and Senate.
Tonko said the feedback he got when making the pitch for climate action during the Trump administration was “disturbing.”
“All of the response from the executive was either denial or delay,” he said.
The next few weeks in Washington could be critical in determining whether legislation to address climate change will be approved, or if there will be more delay.