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Environmental Advocates Call for Changes to Federal Climate Legislation Under Consideration

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A rally outside of Rep. Tonko's Albany office
New York NOW

Environmental Advocates Call for Changes to Federal Climate Legislation Under Consideration

Environmental advocates are calling on federal lawmakers to make changes to the CLEAN Future Act, a bill that would set new renewable energy goals with an eye toward net zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050.

Those advocates are asking Rep. Paul Tonko, a Democrat from the Albany area who chairs the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee in the House, to make amendments to the bill.

Democrats are hoping to approve the bill as they consider broader ways to combat the effects of climate change moving forward.

“The bill requires EPA to establish financial assurance requirements consistent with climate and extreme weather risks at sites. Sites would be able to reduce the amount of financial assurances required by taking steps to reduce risk,” Tonko said in May.

“This section also amends the definition for ‘act of God’ to ensure that releases due to the ‘plausible causal connection to climate change and its effects’ are not shielded from liability.”

Sandy Steubing, the facilitator for PAUSE, an environmental advocacy group in the Capital Region, said the CLEAN Future Act does have some investments for clean energy, but still includes fossil fuel solutions as well. 

“We would like him to remove all dirty fossil fuel solutions, including, for example, the combined heat and power plants, which run on fracked gas. That, under Mr. Tonko’s definition, is clean energy,” Steubing said. 

“Another example of his definition of clean energy is waste incineration, like the old ANSWERS plant.”

Tonko did answer questions about the CLEAN Future Act during an unrelated press conference this week, including one specifically about waste incineration. He said he’s not a fan of incineration, but the issue is more complex than his thoughts alone.

“It’s a work in progress as we go forward. The standards that are part of that incineration piece obviously are an incorporation of the entire House. There are Republican ideas, and Democratic ideas from various bits of geography across the country,” Tonko said. 

“It is our attempt to build by consensus, but that battle is not over yet.”

There are other time-sensitive climate goals outlined in the CLEAN Future Act as well, like a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.

Those goals are similar to what’s required in New York’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

The goals in that law are an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040, and a shift to 70% renewable energy by 2030.

As far as the CLEAN Futures Act goes, that bill was introduced back in March, and is currently under review by several committees.