Bernie Sanders on Energy Policy
“The United States, under a Sanders presidency, will lead the world in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels, create millions of jobs, and create a less polluting society. That is something in which we have no choice.” – Bernie Sanders, 2019
Bernie is committed to transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels by enacting climate-neutral energy policies. He believes we should keep fossil fuels in the ground and instead use renewable energy and sustainable energy while improving energy efficiency. In the process, thousands of good paying jobs will be created. The workers most affected by the transition to clean energy will see large investments in job retraining, job creation, and environmental clean up efforts in their communities.
Energy Efficiency and a Sustainable Energy System: The U.S. must transform its energy system away from fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal and move aggressively towards energy-efficient, sustainable, clean, and renewable energy solutions such as wind, solar, and geothermal.
Ban Nuclear Energy: We must stop building new nuclear power plants, and find a real solution to our existing nuclear waste problem.
End Fossil Fuel Subsidies: We must end corporate welfare for fossil fuel companies and save taxpayers over $135 billion over ten years.
Keep Fossil Fuels In The Ground: We should ban offshore drilling and ban all future leases and current leasing of federally owned lands for extracting coal, natural gas, oil, and tar sands and end U.S. exports of fossil fuels.
Affordable Renewable Energy: Working families must be able to afford access to energy from sustainable sources and receive help in implementing sustainable energy practices at home.
Green Jobs: Transformation to a sustainable energy system based on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources will create thousands of jobs.
Energy Efficiency and a Sustainable Energy System
Bernie supports the Green New Deal and believes climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet.
Bernie believes that we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels, and towards energy efficiency and sustainability. Millions of homes and buildings need to be retrofitted and weatherized, and we need to accelerate development and use of wind, solar, and other sources of alternative power. Bernie believes energy efficiency is crucial to cleaning up the planet, slowing global climate change, creating thousands of jobs, and making the country more secure by gaining independence from foreign oil.
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?
One idea that Bernie supports is “smart grids” that greatly improve electrical transmission efficiency and 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 electricity system.
In 2011, Bernie announced that $69 million of federal funding has been awarded for statewide smart meters and another $15 million for a three-year, project to open the Center for Energy Transformation and Innovation (CETI). The purpose of the lab was to use the smart meters throughout Vermont to find ways to better manage energy consumption and integrate renewable energy sources into the power grid.
What has Bernie done to stop pollution from fossil fuels?
In 2007, Bernie introduced the Clean Power Act of 2007 that would regulate emissions from fossil fuel power plants. The bill targeted greenhouse gases: mercury, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide among other global warming pollutants and called for the Environmental Protection Agency to dispose of carbon dioxide in an environmentally friendly way.
A similar bill, known as the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, would have amended the Clean Air Act to strengthen regulations that reduce greenhouse gases.
In 2016, Bernie introduced his “People Before Polluters” Climate Plan that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by investing in 100% renewable and sustainable energy sources such as solar, wind, biofuels, hydropower, and geothermal. The plan also focused on equitable enforcement of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act to ensure environmental justice for African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
Bernie supported the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which cut the emission of carbon dioxide and other carbon-related greenhouse gases, but emphasizes the need to also limit methane compounds.
Ban Nuclear Energy Expansion
Bernie has called for a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals in the United States.
What is Bernie’s view on nuclear energy?
Bernie believes that we “must stop building new nuclear power plants, and find a real solution to our existing nuclear waste problem.”
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. Bernie is especially concerned about this because nuclear power companies are exploiting loopholes in green-power incentives to expand their billion dollar industry. The recent push to increase the production of nuclear energy follows the heavy investment by billionaires in the nuclear industry.
In 2019, Bernie voiced his opposition to storing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, calling it a “disaster.”
End Fossil Fuel Subsidies
“It’s time to end all subsidies for oil and gas companies.These companies lied to the American people about the very existence of climate change. They committed one of the greatest frauds in our history. When we are in White House we’ll rapidly transition to renewable energy.” – Bernie Sanders, 2019
What has Bernie said about fossil fuel subsidies?
Bernie speaks out against all types for corporate welfare, but he finds the government subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry to be particularly egregious. He talks about the shocking extent of fossil fuel subsidies and benefits that are written into our tax code.
Bernie said that fossil fuel corporations “have spent hundreds of millions of dollars furthering their greed and protecting their profits at the expense of our climate and our future.”
Oil Change International finds that over $21 billion in production and exploration subsidies are given to oil, coal, and gas companies each year. According to a 2019 report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. was $649 billion in 2015.
Bernie has introduced legislation to end direct fossil fuel subsidies, which would save taxpayers more than $135 billion over ten years.
Bernie also introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act in 2012, then re-introduced it in 2013 and 2015.
Keep Fossil Fuels In The Ground
To truly address the crisis of global warming, we must cut off the supply of fossil fuels by keeping them in the ground. Preventing further extraction of fossil fuels on public lands will not only reduce the supply, but it will prevent more environmental damage to protected lands.
Bernie wants to ban fossil fuel extraction on public lands
In 2015 and 2017, Bernie joined Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon in introducing the Keep It In The Ground Act, which would ban all current leasing and future leases of federally owned lands for fossil fuel development.
Specifically, the bill will:
- Block all future leases and end non-producing leases for coal, oil, gas, oil shale and tar sands on all federally owned lands.
- Block all future leases and end non-producing leases for offshore drilling in the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
- Prohibit all offshore drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic oceans.
Ending fossil fuel exports
Bernie wants to end U.S. exports of coal, natural gas, and crude oil. By removing the ability to export fossil fuels the companies will have no financial incentive to extract the fossil fuels.
Ban offshore drilling
The government is considering auctioning off Florida coastal waters for oil & gas drilling. Bernie believes that there is no “safe” offshore drilling: “We’ve had enough disasters by now to learn that there’s no such thing as safe drilling. We cannot afford to keep putting profits for Trump’s friends in the fossil fuel industry ahead of the environment and the health of the American people.”
In 2015, Bernie spoke out against drilling in the Chukchi Sea, which the Department of the Interior estimated could have a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill if the drilling leases were used.
Fracking — or hydraulic fracturing — is the process of drilling deep into the earth and injecting water, sand, and chemicals into the well at high pressure, which forces the fuel to flow out of the well. The water use and transportation costs for this process are tremendous, and carcinogens that are leaked can contaminate surrounding groundwater. Contaminated water from the fracking process is known to have been dumped on roads.
Bernie is proud that Vermont has banned fracking and is calling for a nationwide ban: “Fracking is a danger to our water supply. It’s a danger to the air we breathe. It causes earthquakes. It’s highly explosive. And it’s contributing to climate change. We need to ban it nationwide.”
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.”
Clean and Renewable Energy
Bernie advocates for a transition to efficient and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. Harnessing all of these sources would generate enough energy to eliminate the need for fossil fuel consumption.
What has Bernie done to support Solar Energy?
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.
What has Bernie done to support wind energy?
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 as well as residential and small commercial systems. Burlington, Vermont is entirely powered by wind, water, and biomass energy systems.
Bernie believes wind energy is crucial to the U.S.’ future renewable energy policy. 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.
What has Bernie done to support geothermal energy?
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 rebuilding America’s middle class.
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 2015, Burlington, Vermont, was the first U.S. city to run on 100 percent renewable energy!
How are we going to pay for this? 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 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.
Affordable 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. He believes the combined lack of access to financing options and living under a roof that cannot support a solar panel are preventing lower-income families from moving towards renewable energy.
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.
Bernie has fought to increase access to affordable 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 U.S. move aggressively toward sustainability, but that we can achieve sustainability while saving money for the vast majority of American families.
In 2007, the Senate approved a weatherization amendment proposed by Bernie. The amendment restored funding for a program that helps working people pay their energy bills.
Three years later, Bernie held a press conference touting the success of weatherization in Vermont. Hal Cohen, the executive director of the Central Vermont Community Action Council at the time, called Bernie “the national leader, the champion for weatherization assistance programs.”
Bernie has continued to speak about the importance of weatherization. In 2019, Bernie said, “We’re going to create millions of good-paying jobs weatherizing our homes, changing our transportation system, moving aggressively into wind and solar and other sustainable energies.”
The Green New Deal will generate thousands of good paying jobs. You can read more about it on the Green New Deal page.
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-authoring 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.
“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” during the 2016 election cycle.