Dec. 2022 conference closing keynote, Sen. Tina Smith & Rep. Paul Tonko
In this closing keynote, Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY-20) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) offer remarks of support for CCL’s work and for the promise of a bipartisan future. Read and watch below as Rep. Tonko and Sen. Smith offer encouragement for climate advocates.
Introduction from CCL Executive Director Madeleine Para
And now I am so pleased that we have two members of Congress to bring our conference to a close. I can’t think of a better way to end this fantastic day, and in just a moment, I’ll introduce Representative Tonko, and we’ll hear from him, and then I’ll introduce Senator Smith. Before I do that, though, I want to take a moment and say thank you to our events manager, Alison Kubisco, and to all the staff who supported this event, including those who put the program together and provided tech support, and did the myriad other things needed to make this event happen. It takes a lot of people to put on a conference, and it takes even more to do it when you’re launching a new policy agenda, and I am proud and grateful to work with you. So congratulations on pulling it off, team.
So now I’m very proud to introduce one of our most ardent climate champions in the House of Representatives, Congressman Paul Tonko of New York. He’s serving his seventh term in Congress and second as chair of the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. Representative Tonko has shepherded a number of critical climate and environmental policies through the House, including carbon removal legislation and his most recent support of the Inflation Reduction Act. Congressman Tonko also co-chairs the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, which works to advance climate policy and Congress by bringing members of Congress along on the issue. We are so fortunate to have Representative Tonko as a champion and ally in Congress, leading the charge on emissions reduction policy. I hope that you will join me in thanking him for his leadership and his steadfast commitment to addressing climate change and welcoming Representative Tonko. Thank you for joining us.
Keynote address: Representative Paul Tonko
Thank you, Madeline, and thank you for your great work as Executive Director. It is powerful, and we thank you for it. And I thank Jenn Tyler and the rest of the CCL staff for always networking as great partners. And, of course, thank you to all the volunteers who take time out of your busy lives to meet with your elected officials. I think it’s such an important part of the process. It’s great to join you at the December conference, and I’m honored to join your conference and share time with Senator Tina Smith, who has also dedicated so much of her time in Congress fighting for a clean energy future. And so it’s great to work with Senator Smith. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with CCL volunteers from my district in upstate New York and throughout the state of New York. I’ve always been so impressed, not only with the passion that they bring for climate action, but that we can have polite and substantive conversations about the wide range of policies before Congress.
Without a doubt, CCL and other grassroots groups have made such a huge difference in getting Congress and President Biden, I would say, to prioritize climate change. There are so many important things we must work on in Congress, and frankly, there’s never enough time to do them all. But it is critical that every member be regularly reminded of the tremendous threat that climate change poses to our environment, our public health, our economy, and for that factor, national security.
So I am grateful for everything that CCL has done to keep up a steady call for action. It was those efforts that allowed us to pass historic climate legislation over the past two years, first in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which included billions of dollars to strengthen our electric grid, build a national network of EV charging stations, enable schools and transit agencies to purchase electric buses and many more critical investments. And, of course, this was followed up with the Inflation Reduction Act with a $370 billion investment over the next decade to deploy clean energy and certainly to address environmental injustices. The IRA includes long-term extensions of key tax credits for wind and solar and electric vehicles. It makes major investments in American manufacturing, and it certainly has bonuses for clean energy projects that use high labor standards. These are the types of policies that will not only help us address climate change but will reshape our economy so that American clean energy industries are indeed competitive with high-quality job creation. As a matter of fact, for decades to come, it has been estimated that the IRA will result in greenhouse gas emissions reductions of 40% by 2030.
This is truly amazing, but as we all know, our work is far from done. Decisions we are making today will determine whether we succeed or fail in achieving net zero emissions by no later than 2050. So Congress, the administration, and all of us still have work to do. First, we need to make certain that the IRA is being implemented and implemented well. We need to make certain the public is aware of these incentives and encourage everyone to take advantage of them.
Second, we are going to need additional policies. Obviously, we’re moving into a divided Congress, so it will be critically important to push Republicans in the House that are willing to support policies that benefit clean energy. I know they may not support everything that must be done, but hopefully, there are those things around the edges that can make a difference, like building new interstate transmission lines or compensating farmers for climate-smart practices, a win-win-win situation. And, of course, I still strongly support a national carbon price. It remains such a powerful climate policy, but we know the politics are indeed challenging. So while I will continue to support efforts for carbon pricing, the IRA has proven there are other effective and important policies that we can be developing and advocating for simultaneously.
Personally, I’m working on several bills for next year. For example, I’m preparing to introduce a bill to provide more certainty for offshore wind energy. While the IRA included some key tax incentives. This new industry needs changes to how leasing and permitting are done. People often think that offshore wind will only benefit coastal states, and certainly, that’s simply not true. I know New York-based projects are going to use steel made in Kentucky and be built by a huge ship being constructed in Texas, and we need to make certain that these projects continue regardless of who lives in the White House.
I also introduced the Federal Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act. The IPCC and other climate scientists are telling us that it won’t be enough to only reduce emissions. We also need to remove excess emissions already in the atmosphere. The problem is it is still very expensive to do this through technological means. The IRA included tax credits for carbon removal, like direct air capture, but we need to go a step further and ensure that there is an entity out there that will actually pay for the removal in the first place. Aside from a few corporate commitments, no one is stepping up to buy carbon removal on this scale that the climate science community says will be necessary. So that is why I introduced the bill that would require our federal government to do so. It would help create long-term demand today for the technologies we know will be needed in the 2040s and beyond.
These are just a few examples, and I know other members are working on many more, and we would all benefit from CCL’s continued engagement in D.C. Your voice, indeed, is powerful. Your passion is going to move us and certainly be infectious. I hope you will take all the energy you have brought to Congress; energy can enable the enactment of the IRA and put it to use toward the development and passage of the next great climate bill.
I do thank you again for allowing me to join you. I look forward to continuing to fight for climate action together with you and always letting it be known that you are green power, promoting clean energy, making it happen, and making certain that your voice is heard and heard in a bold and passionate manner. Thank you, everyone, for all the work that you do. And let’s continue to move forward with a clean energy, innovative, precision-based economy that will allow us to be better stewards of our planet and to allow generations that follow us to be prosperous because of the work that we engaged in. Thank you, everyone, for the opportunity.
Introduction from Madeleine Para
Thank you so much, Representative Tonko, and we totally look forward to working more with you. It is now my pleasure to introduce one of the Senate’s true climate champions, Senator Tina Smith. The Senator is the chair of two Senate subcommittees, the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development and the Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy. Since her arrival in the Senate, climate change has been a top priority for Senator Smith. Whether she is helping to pass investments in wind energy research and development or championing funding for sustainable climate-smart agricultural practices, Senator Smith is always keeping the climate central to her work. During reconciliation negotiations, she led efforts to enact a clean energy standard and make sure that emissions reduction was a focus of the effort. Senator Smith was a strong supporter of the critical climate components of the Inflation Reduction Act. We could not ask for a better ally and climate leader in the Senate. Please join me in thanking the Senator for her leadership and focus on addressing climate change. Welcome, Senator Smith.
Keynote address: Senator Tina Smith
Well, Madeline, thank you so much. I had my screen on with as many faces as I could see, and I am just so thrilled to think of all of you on this call and in this conference today to celebrate the progress that we have made and then to rededicate yourself to all of the work that we have ahead of you. And a special shoutout to the Minnesotans that are on this call as well. All of your advocacy and organizing have really delivered the victory that we have had with the Inflation Reduction Act.
This year we celebrate the passage of the most substantial climate and clean energy legislation that we have ever passed in this country. It puts us on a path of 40% emissions reductions. It puts us on a path for not only cleaner but more affordable energy, and energy independence puts us on a path to a stronger economy, with over a million jobs created in the manufacturing and installation and energy efficiency sectors. And, of course, it puts us on a path of more justice, particularly for poor communities and communities of color that have always suffered more from the health impacts of fossil fuel pollution. So this is a huge victory.
I’m just really thrilled to be on this call as well with my friend, Representative Tonko. Paul and I are joint leaders of the Congressional Electrification Caucus, and that, to me, really demonstrates the scope of what it is that we have to do as we think about the opportunities of the Inflation Reduction Act and also what we have to do going forward. Madeline, I think you might have heard from some of the representatives from Electrify America, who I have such high regard for the work that they do, but our strategy really has to be quite simple, and it’s going to have a huge impact. We need to clean up the electric grid so that as much of our electricity as possible, soon to be 100%, is provided by clean energy sources. We need to dramatically expand the energy efficiency of everything from the way we heat and cool our buildings to the appliances that we use to the way we make our homes more energy efficient. Then we need to electrify everything in our homes and in our transportation system, and in our buildings so that we are drawing on all of that clean energy power to do the work that we have to do. That is the opportunity before us. And I believe strongly that this clean energy transition is going to happen. The question is whether we, here in our country, whether we lead that transition or whether we follow it, and the opportunities for all of us, as I’ve just laid out, if we lead, are, are just so substantial.
The law that we passed will make a huge difference. And it happened because of all of the work that all of you did, the impact of your grassroots organizing. You are demonstrating to people that their voices are powerful and that they need to use them. They can use them to reach out to their elected representatives, to build power for climate action at the local level, and then watch that power build throughout all of the states that they come from and all the way to Washington, D.C. it made a huge difference. I can tell you being here in Washington, seeing climate action activists like all of you here in Washington talking to us, reminding us of how important this is demonstrating the power of the constituency supporting climate action was hugely important. And then, of course, when I went home to Minnesota, as so many other legislators when they all went home, they saw it in their own home states as well, the power of people demanding change.
When we first started working on the Inflation Reduction Act way before it was even called the Inflation Reduction Act, many of us had sort of a mantra that we said over and over again, which was no climate, no deal. It was our way of saying that we were serious about this, that this wasn’t going to be a second or third-round priority that would drop off the agenda in favor of something else, or because we just couldn’t develop support for it. We never ever gave up. I also said that I was one of the founding members in Congress of the Never Give Up caucus. And that is what we needed, right? We had to just keep on trying, even when it felt like this great legislation that we were working on had, you know, fallen on rocky shores; we had to keep on bringing it up again and making, finding a path forward. And that’s exactly what we did.
As Representative Tonko said, our work is, of course, not done. Progress is a long, long road. And so we can’t stop now both ensuring that the legislation that we have passed is implemented as efficiently and as fast as it possibly can be and then looking at additional work that we still have to do. I’m really glad that Representative Tonko mentioned the importance of improving and streamlining our permitting processes so that we can get in place the transmission lines and the distribution lines that we need to get all that clean power into a resilient electric grid so that we can take advantage of it. It doesn’t just sit out there. And we can do that without sacrificing our environmental standards. We just need to figure out a way of making it go more smoothly, and we can’t allow states that are opposed to clean power to stand in the way and block our progress. I am very, very optimistic about the opportunities that we have ahead of us. And I know that we have to continue to try to build bipartisan support for a clean energy future.
It is true that not a single Republican voted for the Inflation Reduction Act and the clean energy provisions that were included in that legislation. However, there were strong provisions that Republicans have supported that we passed, especially around support for carbon capture and storage, and also the very strong agriculture provisions to support farmers’ works to sequester carbon in the soil and to adopt conservation strategies that are good for the climate and good for agriculture. And I worked very hard to make sure that rural electric co-ops could participate in this clean energy transition. Again, something that I know has bipartisan support. These are ideas that are not just popular in blue states– they are popular in red states, and they’re popular in all the places in between.
So the swell of energy, no pun intended to keep this clean energy ball moving forward is huge. I close where I started by thanking all of you for your energy, your activism, your organizing, the work that you did to keep this issue front and center, and I look forward to the work that we have to do ahead of us and doing it arm and arm with all of you. Thank you very, very much.
Madeleine Para: Thank you so much for all of your work, Senator Smith, and I think it’s safe to say that the members of CCL are members of the Never Give Up Auxiliary Club. It was such a ride and such a rollercoaster, the Inflation Reduction Act. We are so grateful for your insistence that the climate never drops out of it. So again, thank you to both you and Representative Paul Tonko for taking the time. And we’ll be back on the hill in June to see you all in person.