Dem Energy and Commerce Chair on Push to Reject Fossil Fuel Donations: It’s the ‘Wrong Way to Go’

Rep. Frank Pallone (D., N.J.), the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on Tuesday pushed back against a call from progressives for lawmakers to turn down campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

Pallone, in an interview reported by Politico, appeared on WNYC's "The Brian Lehrer Show" to discuss his agenda as the chairman overseeing climate change, health care, and other issues.  Host Brian Lehrer mentioned how Pallone recently agreed with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D., N.Y.) "Green New Deal" proposal but breaks away from Ocasio-Cortez on whether politicians should receive campaign contributions from figures in the oil, gas, and coal industries.

Pallone did not agree with this assessment, saying he would definitely be looking at "Green New Deal" proposal but noting he doesn't believe some of the proposals are "technologically or politically feasible." He specifically questioned the idea of the United States being carbon-neutral in 10 years. In terms of political contributions, Pallone said he is not someone who will tell members of the committee they can't take money from specific industries or people associated with those committees.

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"To be perfectly honest, some of the utilities in my district, which support me, are some of the best utilities in terms of moving towards green initiatives and trying to get away from fossil fuels and encouraging renewables," Pallone said.

Lehrer pressed that it could be a potential conflict of interest, prompting Pallone to respond, "Where do you draw the line? Does that mean that somebody who works for the utility can’t contribute to me? Or for example, we have jurisdiction over health care, so does that mean hospitals can't contribute or doctors can't contribute or health insurance companies can't contribute?"

Lehrer noted that he believes the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is trying to draw the line at "fossil fuel-related companies."

"If you start going down that road, then nobody can contribute to you," Pallone said. "That's ultimately where we go. Now that doesn't mean to say– I've been a big advocate for having a system where you have a small contribution and the government matches the funds and the government has limits on contributions, but to just say that anybody who somehow does business with our committee can't contribute, I think that goes too far."

"I think that this goes too far because ultimately you have to finance your campaign, and if you start saying that just because you’re on a committee, that nobody associated with any of the issues that the committee faces can contribute, I just think that’s the wrong way to go and too limiting," he added.