Bernie Sanders on Energy Policy

As an adamant supporter of the science that acknowledges global warming to be a man-made danger, Bernie is a strong advocate for adopting new climate-neutral energy policies. Bernie has fought for improving access to renewable energy by introducing various bills such as the Residential Energy Savings Act, the Low Income Solar Act, the Green Jobs Act, and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. Bernie helped form a public-private partnership, Efficiency Vermont, and has partnered with the National Guard to improve military energy efficiency to make Vermont a leader in clean-energy. Bernie believes that not only should the rest of the U.S. move aggressively toward sustainability, but that we can achieve sustainability while saving money for the majority of American families.

Energy Efficiency

Bernie Sanders believes that we must transform our energy system away from pollutive and dangerous fossil fuels, and towards energy efficiency and sustainability. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, and we need to greatly accelerate technological progress in wind, solar, and other alternative power generation. Bernie believes energy efficiency is crucial for cleaning up the planet, slowing global climate change, making the country more secure by gaining independence from foreign oil, and creating thousands of jobs.

The problems of global warming and fossil fuel dependence have never before called for more innovative solutions with more urgency.

How do we reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Bernie believes energy transmittal systems that greatly improve electrical transmission efficiency, or “smart grids”, offer real benefits for both consumers and the environment. These grids have made Vermont, his home state, a national clean energy leader with a stronger, more efficient, and more reliable electric system.

In 2011, Bernie announced a three-year, $15 million federal commitment to open the first-ever New England national laboratory. Dubbed the Center for Energy Transformation and Innovation (CETI), the lab focuses its work on the smart meters throughout Vermont, enabling all the state’s utilities to better manage energy consumption and efficiently integrate renewable energy sources into the power grid. In recognition of Vermont’s energy commitment, The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $69 million towards a roll out of statewide smart meters which state utilities matched at the same level.

Why move away from the established fossil fuel industries of coal, oil, and natural gas?

Putting an end to the use of fossil fuel energy is essential to the reversal of global warming, which the vast majority of climate scientists consider to be one of the greatest threats to our planet. The United States of America must be a leader in this worldwide policy shift. As a member of both the Senate Energy and Environment committees, Bernie is working to stop sweetheart federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Below are examples of federal monetary support Bernie wants to halt:

  • BP, after committing one of the worst environmental disasters in the modern history of America, was able to take a large tax deduction on the money it spent cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coasts of Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida.
  • Coal companies are able to sign single-bid sweetheart leases to mine on federal lands without paying fair value in royalties to American taxpayers.
  • In 2009, Exxon-Mobil, one of the most profitable corporations in the country, paid no federal income taxes at all. In fact, the company received a rebate from the IRS. Several other large companies also have managed to avoid paying federal income taxes in certain years.

What is Bernie’s view on fracking?

He wants to ban fracking, as he discusses in this video:

Bernie is proud that Vermont has banned fracking, and believes the entire United States should adopt similar measures.

Um, but what is fracking?

Fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure, which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The water transportation costs for this process are tremendous, and carcinogens that are leaked may contaminate area groundwater.

Yikes. What has Bernie done legislatively with regard to fracking?

Bernie sponsored the Climate Protection Act of 2013, which would have “amend[ed] the Safe Drinking Water Act to repeal the exemption from restrictions on underground injection of fluids or propping agents granted to hydraulic fracturing.”

Furthermore, the Climate Protection Act would require a person conducting hydraulic fracturing operations to disclose: “(1) before the commencement of such operations, the chemicals intended for use in underground injections; and (2) after the end of such operations, the chemicals actually used.”

What alternative clean, renewable energy sources does Bernie promote?

Bernie advocates for a switch to efficient and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. The U.S. has the ability to harness all of these sources domestically, and would allow us to decrease dependency on fossil fuels.

Bernie champions solar energy, in particular, as a solution to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable sources, stating that “according to the Secretary of the Interior, we can produce almost 30 percent of the electricity for homes in this country through solar thermal in the Southwest.”

Bernie’s early 2010 legislation, the 10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act, would have injected 30,000 new megawatts of energy into the system, and set up 200,000 new solar hot water heating systems across the U.S. over the decade.

When introducing his Low Income Solar Act in 2015, Bernie remarked that he considers climate change to be tied into economic justice: “The poor spend a greater percentage of their money on energy, and that they need a leg up to harness the power of the sun.” With the aid of loans and grants from the Department of Energy, the Low Income Solar Act legislation would put solar panels on the rooftops of many low income homes.

Bernie also helped fund a 1.45 megawatt solar energy project at the Vermont Air National Guard base. This project is meeting 40 percent of the Guard’s electricity needs while saving an estimated $250,000 a year in energy costs.

Bernie believes wind energy is crucial to the U.S.’ future renewable energy policy.

Vermont has been harnessing wind energy since before Bernie was born, and the state is now a leader in renewable energies. The state also has a strong wind energy program – both in terms of large systems, and residential/small commercial systems. Burlington, Vermont is entirely powered by wind, water and biomass energy systems.

However, there has been disagreement in the state. Some fear that turbine installations may leave permanent scars on Vermont’s ridgelines. State legislators opted for a 3-year moratorium on the new wind projects in 2013, which Bernie opposed. While the moratorium was intended for planning purposes, Bernie believes that local government had a role in the decision process, and expressed concerns that a halt on progress in wind energy would have national implications in the effort to transform America’s energy systems.

Bernie believes that geothermal energy (i.e., heat generated naturally by the Earth) can play an important role in the U.S.’s future energy portfolio.

Bernie hosted a roundtable with some 200 members on geothermal energy’s role in transitioning Vermont to a cleaner, more sustainable, and energy-independent future. Bernie also believes that geothermal systems can be an integral part in American middle class rebuilding.

What is Bernie’s view on clean nuclear energy?

Bernie has called for a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals in the United States. He believes that solar, wind, geothermal power, and energy efficiency are more cost-effective than nuclear plants, and that the toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit. Ever the financial watchdog, Bernie has also questioned why the federal government invests billions into federal subsidies for the nuclear industry.

How can the United States afford to bolster these alternative energy sources?

The Obama administration specifically cited Efficiency Vermont, Bernie’s home state’s green energy program, as a model for utilities around the country. Efficiency Vermont provides technical assistance, rebates, and other financial incentives to help Vermont households and businesses become more energy-efficient in order to reduce their energy costs.

At the Vermont Clean Energy Finance Summit, Bernie explained how the program works to drives down energy costs as it reduces reliance on fossil fuels:

As of this year, Burlington, Vermont, is the first U.S. city to run on 100 percent renewable energy!

Sustainable sources of energy will save consumers billions of dollars.

What policies has Bernie proposed?

Bernie introduced the Residential Energy Savings Act in 2013 to provide funding for energy efficiency financing programs that help homeowners and residents invest in retrofits for energy efficiency. Bernie was also the architect of innovative weatherization and energy efficiency finance programs via Efficiency Vermont (mentioned above) that help homeowners, small businesses and schools access funding for energy efficiency retrofits. Bernie’s efforts have helped over 15,000 Vermont households save on their energy bills in the last ten years.

Other Bernie-initiated bill proposals include the Low Income Solar Act, the Green Jobs Act, and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. In collaboration with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Bernie also introduced legislation to close tax loopholes and eliminate other expensive and counterproductive federal subsidies for the oil, gas, and coal industries with End Polluter Welfare Act.

Financial Access to Renewable Energy

Bernie believes that working families and many low-income families who would benefit the most from a reduction in their electricity bills are not taking advantage of affordable, sustainable energy sources because of a combined lack of access to financing options, and living under a roof that cannot support a solar panel.

What policies has Bernie proposed?

Bernie authored a pilot program that promotes “on-bill financing.” Under this program, utility customers would be able to install alternative energy sources like solar panels and geothermal pumping systems at their home or business and repay the cost in monthly installments on their utility bill.

Through the Low Income Solar Act, Bernie proposed legislation to provide grants to help reduce the upfront costs of installing solar panels. For renters or families unable to install solar on their roofs, the bill would provide loans to solar developers to connect low-income families to solar either physically or virtually through the construction of community solar facilities. In all cases, this bill encourages job training to local communities.

Green Jobs

Sustainable sources of energy will create hundreds of thousands of jobs

What policies has Bernie proposed?

Bernie’s legislative accomplishments include working with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton to write the Green Jobs Act, which created a green jobs workforce training program, and co-wrote the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, a program to help states and local governments fund energy efficiency and sustainable energy initiatives. Both the Green Jobs Act and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program were funded through the 2009 economic recovery package.

In his introduction of the Climate Protection Act, Bernie said:

“To transform our energy system, this legislation makes the boldest ever investment in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. That includes weatherizing 1 million homes a year as President Obama called for previously. It means tripling the budget for ARPA-E to do advanced research, and investing hundreds of billions through incentives and a public-private Sustainable Technologies Fund focusing on energy efficiency, solar and wind and geothermal and biomass, and clean transportation technology. We also provide funds to train workers for jobs in the sustainable energy economy.”

For his leadership on these issues, Mother Jones called him the “best candidate on climate change.”