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Key House Democrat floats 9 principles for sweeping climate legislation

The chairman of a House climate change subcommittee outlined nine principles he believes should be the basis for any future comprehensive climate legislation with the goal of garnering broad support.

Speaking at the Climate Leadership Conference in Baltimore on March 21, Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., said he has spent the past 18 months crafting the principles based on discussions with businesses, labor groups, environmental groups, think tanks and other members of Congress. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Climate Registry hosted the conference.

"I propose that we build on our areas of strongest agreement," said Tonko, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. "We agree, for example, 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 this crisis, including to reduce emissions cost-effectively and help communities prepare for the impacts."

Tonko's outline comes as some progressive Democrats are pushing a Green New Deal resolution, an aspirational document that stands little chance of passage in the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate. Supporting the proposal could pose a liability to Democrats in the general election.

Tonko said that later this year, he expects "to share more details on a plan we are building based on a foundation of carbon pricing with complementary policies in energy innovation, in efficiency and workforce development and in infrastructure."

While Tonko did not directly say in his speech that he is hoping to get some Republican support down the road, he hinted multiple times that he thinks there could be multiple points of agreement.

Tonko said he has identified "a few other things we agree on, and I propose we use them to build a comprehensive national climate action plan together."

The nine principles include having the nation adopt science-based targets to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality by midcentury. Legislation should acknowledge important opportunities that can come with transition, Tonko said. Any legislation should create millions of jobs in such things as clean energy, advanced manufacturing, and in building and modernizing infrastructure, Tonko said.

The legislation should work to mitigate the threat of climate change through federal investments in research design and development for all energy technologies as well as incentives and standards for energy efficiency, grid modernization, electrification and carbon dioxide removal, Tonko said.

Any climate bill should also take care to implement a just transition in areas where there is a shift to greener energy and technologies, the congressman said. "We need to ensure everyone gets to share in the benefits of the clean transition and no-one is left behind."

Any response to climate cannot create more hardship for struggling and vulnerable low-income households, Tonko said. Legislation should seek to avoid harm to first movers and to create policies that deliver predictability and durability.

Legislation should empower state, local, tribal and territorial governments. Lastly, a bill should emphasize that climate change adaptation includes resilience, hardening infrastructure and ensuring future projects account for climate change, Tonko said.