Bernie Sanders on Environmental Protection

Bernie Sanders has consistently advocated for and worked towards legislation that protects important watersheds and wildlife areas. He introduced key legislation with The Rebuild America Act of 2015 to improve stormwater and wastewater treatment and improve our national parks. Bernie has spoken out against black carbon pollution and drilling initiatives which carry high risk of oil spills, and he has voted and continues to work to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.


Bernie consistently votes in favor of conservation legislation and protection while insisting that the United States focus on implementing conservation efforts.

What is conservation?

Conservation is the goal of preserving the environment and its resources for humans in a mutually sustainable way. Conservation uses methods such as curbing deforestation, protecting wildlife, stopping overdevelopment, and curbing the use of pollutants.

Why is conservation important?

Conservation is the best method humans have to ensure that the resources of the planet remain plentiful for future generations. Not only does it work toward a better future, but conservation also aims to create a better environment for the present. For instance, conservation may “preserve potential medicines and other products that might benefit humans.”

In what ways has Bernie stood up for conservation?

In 2014, Bernie voted “nay” on the Border Fence, which the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) notes “would lead to more damaging floods by impeding the natural flow of water, and would further fragment the habitat, jeopardizing imperiled species like jaguars, ocelots, and big horn sheep.”

Bernie also voted in favor of the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013. This act would have encouraged important conservation practices to protect wetlands, soil quality and wildlife. He voted against Amendment No.659 to the congressional budget, which required an investigation of the cumulative economic effects of reserved habitat and would have drained budget resources that would have been better used to help protect those areas.

Bernie holds a lifetime score of 95 percent from the LCV.

Clean Water and Air

Clean air and water has an impact on the health of our people and our environment. As a Senator from a state adjacent to one of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States, Bernie understands the importance of clean air and water and how it can impact communities.

How do we clean water in America?

Drinking water goes through a multiple-step filtration process starting at the source and ending in storage. The two main sources of water are groundwater (rainwater, runoff, etc. that is absorbed into the ground and resides in the layers of clay and earth within the crust) and rivers/lakes. Groundwater is accessed through wells drilled into rock by providers, and requires little processing. After human use, wastewater (sewage/bio-waste, water used in appliances such as dishwashers, etc) must be cleaned before it is released back into the environment. Treatment facilities begin by aerating the water, removing 60 percent of “suspended solids” followed by secondary treatment, which removes 90 percent of the remaining “suspended solids”.

Clean water is important, but why should we be concerned?

Although a great deal of progress has been made, many issues are re-surfacing or simply not being fixed fast enough. One example is the Clean Water Act. It helped reduce pollution, especially in Lake Erie, but now there are new pollutants that the Act in its current form does not address. Cleaning techniques and pollutant regulations are outdated and not unified. Runoff pollution from communities and agriculture is a major issue.

A major hurdle regarding improved water treatment is funding. A 2007 Environmental Protection Agency survey found that water and wastewater infrastructure projects across the country require approximately $334.8 billion for the 20-year period from January 2007 through December 2027.

Has Bernie introduced any legislation supporting clean air and water?

In January 2015, Bernie introduced the The Rebuild America Act of 2015. This act included $26 billion dollars to improve stormwater and wastewater treatment, create dams and levees to prevent flooding, and create better drinking water systems.

How else has Bernie worked toward clean water?

Bernie voted for the Water Resources Development Act of 2013, which would have ensured the sustainable and healthy management of oceans through increased research.

In March 2015, he voted against a 2015 budget amendment that would have prohibited placing limits on exercising water rights as a condition for using or developing public lands. Notably, this would make drought crises, such as those in California, much worse by prohibiting setting limits on the usage of water. A couple months later, Bernie spoke out against drilling in the Chukchi Sea, which the Department of Interior estimated could have a 75 percent of a large oil spill.

How about pollution? What does Bernie’s record show in fighting that?

In April 2015, Bernie spoke out against black carbon pollution along with Senators Schatz, Whitehouse, King, Markey, Boxer, and Warren. The letter they release stated:

“Black carbon pollution, or soot, a type of particulate matter that results from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, is a significant contributor to global warming. The Arctic is especially sensitive to black carbon pollution. When it covers highly reflective snow and ice, the darker surface absorbs more heat, accelerating the melting of snow, glaciers, ice sheets, and sea ice.”

What are some recent victories Bernie has made in the fight for clean air and water?

Bernie secured a strong victory for his home state by protecting the Missisquoi and Trout rivers under the Wild and Scenic rivers designation. The designation is particularly important to Vermont as the Lake Champlain and Missisquoi Bay region have recently been plagued with dead zones and algae blooms, an environmental concern that affects freshwater basins throughout the US, most notably in Lake Champlain’s larger cousins, the Great Lakes.

The Missisquoi River running through Sheldon, Vermont.

Public Parks & Hunting Lands

Public use lands such as parks and mixed use reserves are an American legacy. Bernie supports the continued creation and maintenance of public use lands and believes they are an important vehicle for economic growth.

What are public lands?

Public lands are owned by the federal government. They are subject to sale, but have not been subject to laws. These lands are managed by the Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary has a responsibility to consider the environmental integrity of these areas, and many are national parks, reserves, and refuges. There are types of public land with different restrictions. National parks, national monuments, and national preserves are administered by the national parks Service and are under the highest protection; they have regulations for their preservation, cannot be sold, and are rarely disbanded. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service manages National Wildlife Refuges. Administration of National Wildernesses varies because it is so widespread. Bureau of Land Management lands are the least protected and most likely to be sold off or used for mining, logging, and other harmful practices.

National parks are awesome. What concerns surround them?

Although national parks are fairly safe, other land is not. Republican senators want to sell a great deal of these lands, opening them to potentially destructive private activity.

Furthermore, higher National Park fees make them less accessible to more Americans. This is related to parks being underfunded yet requiring funding to maintain and improve safety and visitor experience.

What legislation has Bernie supported to protect and create public lands?

Bernie created the Rebuild America Act of 2015, which sets aside $3 billion a year “to improve our national parks, monuments, heritage areas and landmarks for current and future generations to enjoy.”

In 2015, he voted against an amendment to the federal budget that would allow the sale of public park and wildlife refuge areas.

Bernie has argued strongly in favor of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), in which “companies that drill for (publicly owned) oil and gas…off our shores pay a portion of their revenues into the fund, and that money goes into a trust to acquire… land within the borders of national parks and other protected sites.”

This important program was founded in the 1960s as a way to create more public lands without using taxpayer dollars. Bernie co-signed a letter urging Democratic and Republican senate leadership to work together to find a permanent funding solution for the program, which is set to expire in September 2015.

Grand Canyon National Park, which is protected by the LWCF.

What are some accomplishments Bernie has for creating public use lands?

As mayor of Burlington, Vt., Bernie worked to create the public-use Waterfront Park on the shores of Vermont’s largest city. What could have been developed as luxury 18-story condominiums and a 150-room hotel became a walkable mixed-used park including a sailing center and marina, science center, bike path and public beach.

The view of Lake Champlain as seen from Burlington, Vermont.