Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat representing New York, says he’s optimistic about the prospects of targeted pieces of clean energy legislation moving through Congress in the coming months, including an extension of tax credits for both solar and wind.
“A comprehensive climate bill is not going to be possible this Congress, but we know there are meaningful policies that stand a chance of garnering bipartisan, bicameral support in this current moment,” Tonko said at the recent Clean Energy Week summit in Washington, D.C.
Tax policy was the first area he identified as being ripe for progress.
Tonko, who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, noted that a letter of support for “critical clean energy tax credits” continues to gain momentum in the House of Representatives. The letter calls for extending tax credits to both solar and wind energy, as well as creating incentives to additional clean energy technologies, including energy storage, energy efficiency and offshore wind.
Tonko said is he is confident the legislation will move.
“We’ve had several communications with the chair of the Ways and Means Committee; we’ve talked to members [and] we’ve talked to staff. They are very open to the push that we are making,” he said in an interview on the event’s sidelines.
Tonko said he has urged Democratic House leadership to include tax policy updates in any agenda they put forward, and so far the response has been positive.
“I think the odds are good,” he said. “They really want to do a green tax policy package.”
But even if the House succeeds in passing a pro clean technology tax bill, it would still have to pass through the Republican-controlled Senate. When asked how he sees tax legislation making it past Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Tonko said that he sees public opinion forcing Republicans to act.
“The public sentiment is driving this issue right now. There’s no denying it’s really risen exponentially in the polls,” he said. “And so I think that this is one of the things [Senate Republicans] can do without feeling like they don’t have the numbers that they need.”
“The public sentiment driving this may make the difference,” he added.
Is activism translating to policy action?
Numerous polls show that Americans widely support the deployment of renewable energy. A Gallup survey from March, for instance, found that 80 percent of respondents believe the U.S. should put more emphasis on producing domestic energy from solar, and 70 percent believe there should be greater emphasis on wind.
Last fall, the Yale Program for Climate Communication released a report that found nearly 80 percent of respondents support offering tax credits for rooftop solar and just over 70 percent support providing incentives to individuals for the purchase of an electric vehicle.
Recent youth climate strikes have amplified calls for accelerating the deployment of renewable energy resources and increasing government spending on green energy plans.
Despite this momentum, Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, expressed skepticism that clean energy legislation would move in the Senate soon.
“The majority leader decides what we can vote on,” Romney said at the Clean Energy Week summit. “If it’s something maybe three or four of his members would find uncomfortable for [their] reelection campaigns, then it may be something he doesn’t want to put on the floor.”
“So the politics have to change,” he continued. “You have to have a stronger…perspective [that] this is something that will affect your reelection.”
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