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Congressional Corner With Paul Tonko

In today’s Congressional Corner, New York Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat from the 20th district, wraps up his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

Here we are at the Congressional Corner with our very good friend, a man I respect, Paul Tonko, Democrat of New York's 20th district, in office since 2009. And you know, Paul, there are so many things. We talked about the coronavirus, the last time out, and the time before and we talked about presidential politics. Now let's get down to some of the other stuff. You had an addiction treatment bill with West Virginia Representative David McKinley. What's the update and what's in that bill?

Well, basically the bill would allow for us to undo an outdated and I believe outmoded requirement to have those who can provide, for opioid treatment because they are authorized to do so for pain management, to be able to be unleashed to do that, for those struggling with the illness of addiction. The DEA the Drug Enforcement Agency has for many years required that there be special training, additional coursework for those professionals who are licensed, certified, experienced and in practice treating pain management, but we are concerned about the amount of service providers that can address the illness of addiction. And this just seems to be another burden that is unnecessary. So our measure for the sake of reducing, or undoing, I should say, that requirement is exactly that we, the two of us have put together this measure. I know that they have done this in other places like in France, and the results have been very, very strong. I think there is enough history now, 20 years perhaps of history, for medication assisted treatment, and it has shown that it does work and that it works well. And some of those who suggest that if we undo some of those requirements, we may have diversion industries where people go to, you know, other resources other than to clinics and to professionals to have their illness addressed. I would say that diversion is happening now, because there are not enough qualified eligible service providers. And if we can unleash this talent by undoing this outmoded restriction, we're serving the community, those who struggle with the addiction, the illness of addiction, we're serving them well, by doing so.

Staying with healthcare for a minute, HR3, the Democrats big prescription drug bill, when Trump ran, as I remember it, he said we were paying too much for prescription drugs. And you know, and yet, I believe it’s probably stalled in the House of Representatives where the democrats control things.

Well, you know, I think the HR3 legislation which really is good forward moving step to address the cost curve, to bend that cost curve, because people should not have to choose between heat, and eating and, and medication they require. In many cases, I hear of constituents who take half a dosage of what's required in order to stay well or to stay alive. I think that is really, really a just an unacceptable outcome. And so our bill really works to provide for response to that crisis and puts different parameters into play and makes certain that you know, that we bend that cost curve and protect the out of pocket expenditures that are required of our senior population, for instance. We capped that and I think it's a good way to move forward and begin to address pharmaceutical reform.

Any chance of getting it through the Senate?

I think so. I think that I'm counting the public pressure that is borne by everyone out there that I talked to. Colleagues from every bit of geography in the House have said that this is like the biggest concern. Healthcare continues to be the biggest concern amongst issues facing the House. And within that arena of healthcare, I would say pharmaceutical costs, reduction, reigns supreme,

What are the obstacles to your movement to move the US to 100% green economy by 2050? How do we do that? What things stand in the way?

Well, there are a number of things. We just issued a climate legislation that will, I think, provide for what I think is the most comprehensive bill to come in a decade if not ever, and basically, it's an economy-wide addressing of climate. We just had a report that was made that show 2019 was the second hottest year on record. The five warmest years on record have all occurred since 2014, which, Alan, makes the 2010s the hottest decade ever recorded since 1950, by the way, every decade has been warmer than the last. So our Clean Future bill basically calls for a framework, which is broad and comprehensive. It includes a number of proven and innovative approaches including a climate bank that will provide resources, public and private, to assist localities and private sector to get involved in the innovation economy. It creates a clean electricity standard. That puts more pressure and quicker pressure to undo the carbon that is emitted. We have a buy clean provision, which is similar to buy American, it requires that the EPA set up standards for what “clean” would mean. And then we have a state climate plan where we offer flexibility to the states to determine within their own doing, what is the quickest path toward getting to a net zero outcome by the year 2050. As I said, it covers all sectors including the power industry, transportation, manufacturing, and big business and buildings and agriculture. So we're pretty confident that we can move forward with this but it's been a very thorough process and it will require more time to get the final package together.

I've only got two minutes here. We've only got two minutes, so I wanted to talk to you just for a moment about PFAS, the package that keeps our waters clean and keeps terrible stuff out of them. Where does your package stand today? It's been advanced, I know in the house.

Right. In fact, we have a package that was approved by the committee. The House passed after the committee action, the House passed that comprehensive bill addressing PFOS and it was developed in our in our committee. The package includes a number of provisions where PFOA and PFOS, as hazardous substances would be included under the Superfund for cleanup. It provides grants for affected drinking water systems so that they can put treatment technologies into play. It provides guidance for firefighters, who many times are at risk of PFOS exposure, and it requires a safe drinking water standard to be developed, especially in orders of protection for vulnerable populations, like pregnant women, infants and children, and then a voluntary labeling measure for pots, pans, and cooking utensils that are PFOS free, and then finally requiring a comprehensive testing of all PFOS under the Toxic Substance Control Act. So, again, it's action being taken by the House to encourage the Senate to do likewise. Locally, we've had concerns for the city of Cohoes, where there is that report now that materials containing PFOS from the Department of Defense were incinerated in Cohoes. My office is working steadfastly to seek more information from the Department of Defense. But needless to say I do not support any unsafe disposal of PFOS and want to make certain that the local community as all the information and the resources it needs to protect the people of Cohoes.

I have no time left but I want to ask you, for people who are not familiar with PFOS, who manufactures that stuff?

Well, there are different industries that are PFOS creators. It was initiated as a way to provide for, you know, modern society to meet some very strict needs, but determined that it is unsafe, and we now have to work to make certain there are substitutes, and that we remove this from the mainstream.

Paul Tonko, we love having you on with us. You're a great guy. Representative Paul Tonko, Democrat of New York's 20th district, in office since 2009. And the guy who really comes around and we so appreciate it. Paul, thanks for being here.

Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to join you and the team.

Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.