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US House subcommittee head details pros, cons of federal carbon pricing options

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US House subcommittee head details pros, cons of federal carbon pricing options

During a May 28 climate-focused town hall, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said establishing a federal carbon cap-and-trade program may be more effective than implementing a carbon tax.

Tonko, who heads the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, said he is trying to build a bipartisan consensus on the best way to advance potential climate legislation should a Democrat win the White House in 2020.

Tonko in March released a list of nine principles to guide any climate-related legislative strategy. Meanwhile, an increasing number of companies have stepped up their call for a federal price on carbon, and dozens of corporate executives recently descended on Washington to talk with federal lawmakers about the issue.

During the town hall in Troy, New York, Tonko said he is open to all options for climate solutions. But when an eighth-grade boy asked Tonko about his views on a carbon tax versus a cap-and-trade program, the lawmaker had mostly positive things to say about the latter option while questioning whether a carbon tax would actually prompt companies to reduce their emissions.

"What I think is beneficial with a cap and invest [program], as I call it, is that it provides a signal to the market," Tonko said. "When we do that and send a price signal, I think that you then have a market adjustment that happens, and if you give that competitive opportunity a chance, it then allows for investment in innovation that allows us to achieve those goals in a ready fashion."

Later responding to a different question, Tonko said, "If you put a tax onto a commodity to reduce that carbon, there isn't that certainty that they would reduce their carbon outlay. They may continue to pay the tax." But "we're putting all these issues on the table, all these solutions on the table."

Tonko also criticized the Trump administration for reportedly moving to limit the scope of the federal government's climate analysis. The New York Times reported that the head of the United States Geological Survey ordered that the agency's future scientific assessment computer models project climate change impacts only through 2040 rather than through the end of the century. The article suggested the move is part of the Trump administration's broader effort to undermine climate science, which Tonko echoed in his remarks.

The USGS move is "vulgar behavior and just a failed bit of leadership because it's cooking the books literally and it's also telling agencies to change their methodology ... which is an upsetting outcome, and we're ready to fight it off," Tonko said.

Tonko noted that he has proposed the Scientific Integrity Act, H.R.1709, that would establish uniform standards at U.S. agencies to adopt or strengthen existing scientific integrity policies. The policies would prevent public research and findings from being distorted or shelved for political reasons. Tonko said he is "thinking of ways to convince my colleagues to do hearings on this to bring it to the attention of a greater audience."

The congressman faced at least two questions on whether he supports the Green New Deal, a resolution put forward in Congress that calls for a massive shift away from fossil fuels and includes other nonclimate related measures such as healthcare guarantees for all Americans. Tonko said he views the resolution in the context of his ability as the head of a subcommittee to help get the tools in place that will help the U.S. accomplish the goals of the Green New Deal.