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Tonko in line for environmental chairmanship

Tonko in line for environmental chairmanship

Subcommittee on Environment oversees climate change policy
Tonko in line for environmental chairmanship
Paul Tonko speaks beside fellow Democrats running for seats during a GOTV rally in Saratoga Springs, Nov 3, 2018.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

CAPITAL REGION -- U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko is likely to become chairman of the House committee that oversees environmental issues, including how government responds to climate change.

With the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years following Tuesday's election, the Amsterdam Democrat is in line to become chairman of the Subcommittee on the Environment, a subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"There is a lot of work to be done. A lot of issues have been back-burnered, and we can't afford that," Tonko said on Thursday, two days after being overwhelmingly re-elected to a sixth term in Congress.

Tonko, who represents the 20th Congressional District, is one of the most outspokenly progressive members of Congress. He is the ranking minority member of the energy subcommittee and is also a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Assuming he becomes chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, Tonko will have the power to call hearings and potentially draft legislation to address climate change, which most scientists believe is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.

Republicans haven't addressed the issue, though, and President Donald Trump has called man-made climate change a "hoax."

Tonko hopes to find solutions and pursue new policies, like a carbon tax aimed at reducing carbon emissions by businesses, and bring more attention to warnings like the recent report from the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change.

"We have to understand the need and urgency to address carbon pollution, to address climate change," Tonko said. "We have not addressed that issue in nearly a decade. Republicans didn't address it, and I think we have to address it, and address it urgently."

Other issues within the subcommittee's scope include brownfield cleanups, modernization of the power grid, and even infrastructure.

He said other issues Congress must address urgently include ensuring the preservation of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, restoring health care protections and trying to improve civility in Congress.

"I think, with the takeover of the House, the voters across the country have spoken loud and clear, and a top priority is restoring trust," Tonko said.

He wouldn't commit to supporting Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker, saying he wants to see who else may run, but he noted he supported her in the past.

"She is strong, and she is a good negotiator," he said.

While Tonko will return to a role in a majority party for the first time since 2011, North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, will be in the minority for the first time since her election in 2014. Stefanik has served in the Republican majorities on the House Armed Services Committee, the Committee of Education and Workforce, and the Intelligence Committee.

She said she expects to be able to work well with the Democrats.

"I have a very strong record of reaching across the aisle," Stefanik said on Election Night in Glens Falls, after winning her third term representing the 21st Congressional District.

The House Armed Services Committee is one of the most bipartisan committees in Congress, she said.

"I'm confident I can work effectively with my colleagues, because that is how I have always done this job," she said. "I will work with anyone, no matter if you're a Republican, Democrat or an unaffiliated voter that has a good idea."

She said she hopes to still focus on expanding access to rural broadband and representing farmers and the agricultural industry.

"There's a lot to do, and I'm looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting it done on behalf of the people I represent," she said.

19th Congressional District Congressman-elect Antonio Delgado, who defeated incumbent Republican John Faso on Tuesday, has yet to receive his committee assignments.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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