A Climate Action Alternative To the Green New Deal

Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko of New York laid out his vision for a climate action plan that is an alternative to the Green New Deal — one that he hopes will appeal to a wider segment of the American public, including Republicans. Representative Tonko said in laying out his plan, “We agree that climate change is real. We agree humans are driving it. We agree that we need to build solutions that meet the scale and urgency of the crisis we face. The principles outlined [here] are meant to provide a framework that moves the lines of our agreement forward and helps us build a comprehensive national climate action plan together.”

Like the Green New Deal, Tonko proposes a set of principles rather than specific policies or programs.   They are:  (1) Adopt science-based targets for carbon neutrality by 2050; (2) A clean economy must be strong, competitive and fair; (3) Climate action should invest in America’s future; (4) Climate action should deliver a just and equitable transition; (5) Climate action should protect low-income households; (6) Climate action should strengthen community resilience against the new climate realities; (7) Climate action should empower state, local, tribal and territorial governments; (8) Climate action should avoid harm to first-movers; (9) Climate action should create stable and predictable policies.  Tonko also said yesterday, according to The Hill, that his resulting climate bill “would ultimately include a longer-term plan of establishing a price on carbon emissions, though Tonko did not specify whether it would be through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system.”

Roll Call reported that one large environmental NGO has already pronouned the Tonko proposal dead on arrival as too weak — “Rep. Tonko’s climate change principles have already waved the white flag of surrender,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.  But Representative John Shimkus, who is a Republican from Illinois and serves as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, was pleased with the proposal, saying, “Republicans have repeatedly urged our Democrat colleagues to reject extreme policies like the Green New Deal and instead work together on realistic, bipartisan responses to climate change.  I am happy to see Mr. Tonko’s proposal return to where the committee was very active last Congress through our hearings focused on reducing carbon emissions, boosting renewable energy options, and modernizing electricity generation and transmission.”

Why This Matters:  The Tonko proposal is not as broad or comprehensive or ambitious as the Green New Deal – and will not satisfy the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party.  It is telling that Reuters reported yesterday that some leaders of clean energy companies are not yet willing to support for the Green New Deal, “calling it unrealistic and too politically divisive for an industry keen to grow in both red and blue states.”  If clean energy companies are not willing to support the Green New Deal even when they stand to benefit the most from it, then it will be hard to find other corporations that do.  Nevertheless, we need a vigorous discussion about how ambitious we need to be and it seems too soon to dismiss any of these ideas.  Only through public debate and more engagement with the public can we find common ground and a majority of support for what is clearly needed to take action on climate change. 

To Go Deeper:  You can read Representative Tonko’s Climate Action Framework here.

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