Bernie Sanders on Environmental Protection

Throughout his career Bernie Sanders has consistently worked to protect 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 are high risk for oil spills, and he continues to work to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. 

Conservation: Aims to ensure the continued conservation of watersheds, national reserves, and natural areas.

Clean Water and Air: Recognizes the importance of clean water and air to the continued health of ecosystems and public health.

Public Parks & Hunting Lands: Supports the continued and strong funding of parks, hunting lands, and public use areas.

Addressing Climate Change: Bernie calls Climate change the single greatest threat facing our planet and has a plan.


Bernie has a life long record of supporting conservation and preservation of watersheds, natural reserves, natural areas, estuaries, rivers, and oceans.  He opposes fracking (hydraulic fracturing), drilling in the arctic wildlife refuge, offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and oil pipelines such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines that threaten the giant aquifer systems there.

What is conservation?

Conservation is preserving and protecting the environment. Conservation methods are used to curb deforestation, stop desertification, protect wildlife, prevent overdevelopment, and curb the use of pollutants.

Why is conservation important?

Conservation is the best way 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 little cost. For instance, conservation may preserve potential medicines and other products that might benefit humans. The value of conservation is much higher than previously realized and crucial to protecting the planet

In what ways has Bernie stood up for conservation?

Bernie has consistently taken pro-conservation votes throughout his time in office.

Bernie voted against the weakening of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and voted in favor of two amendments to strengthen it. In 2008, Bernie signed onto this letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior, opposing efforts to weaken the protection of endangered species.

Bernie 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.

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 bighorn sheep.”

In 2017, he voted to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling as he does each time the issue is brought to a vote. 

Bernie opposed the repeal of the Alaska Wildlife Refuge Rule that had prohibited some hunting practices to reduce bear, wolf, and coyote populations on the national wildlife refuge in Alaska. 

Bernie voted in favor of prohibiting any funding intended for the destruction of wild animals to protect livestock unless humans or animal species are under threat. 

Bernie has received one of the highest scores given to a U.S. Senator from Defenders of Wildlife, an organization dedicated to the protection of wildlife in their natural habitats.

In 2018, Bernie scored 100% on the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) environmental scorecard and holds a lifetime score of 92 percent.

National Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska (Image source: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)

Bernie has also supported the conservation of tropical rainforests. In 1998, he voted in favor of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act that would help protect tropical forests by encouraging conservation efforts and granting debt relief to developing nations.

Clean Water and Air

“It is not a radical idea to say that people ought to have clean drinking water when they turn on their taps. Today we say to the American people that we will rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.” – Bernie Sanders, 2019

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. Bernie serves on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, which is responsible for dealing with matters related to the environment and infrastructure. He wants to improve our infrastructure, reduce water and air pollution, and is calling for a nationwide ban on fracking to protect our groundwater.

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 drinking water are groundwater (rainwater, aquifers) and surface water (rivers/lakes). Groundwater is accessed through wells and requires little processing. The cost for clean drinking water is around $2 per 1,000 gallons. The average person in the U.S. uses over 100 gallons of water per day.

Wastewater (sewage/bio-waste, water from showers, dishwashers, storm runoff) 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 some progress has been made, many issues remain. For example, the Clean Water Act helped reduce pollution, especially in Lake Erie, but now there are new pollutants that are not addressed in the Act. Cleaning techniques and pollutant regulations for drinking water are outdated and not unified. Runoff pollution from communities and agriculture is a major issue.

Funding for infrastructure is a major hurdle to achieve improved water treatment. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) found in a 2017 report that  wastewater infrastructure projects across the country require approximately $271 billion to meet the demand for the next 20 years. American Water Works Association estimates $1 trillion over the next 25 years is necessary to maintain and expand the necessary infrastructure to supply clean drinking water for Americans.

The Pentagon pushed to weaken regulations in the Clean Water Act that protect the drinking water of millions of Americans from toxic chemicals, and require the cleanup of hazardous waste sites that threaten to pollute groundwater.  

Four million households with children living in them are exposed to high levels of lead. This includes the residents of Flint, Michigan and other communities with lead water pipes that have contaminated their drinking water. Lead exposure affects the entire body and is extremely dangerous. It can affect children’s brain development and lower intelligence

In February 2018, Bernie returned to Flint, Michigan and found that “The impact of the water crisis continues to be enormous, and government at all levels is not doing enough.” Of the Flint crisis, Bernie has said

“Five years ago the Flint Water Crisis began. Since then, thousands of lives have been destroyed. We must root out institutional racism everywhere it exists, provide the resources Flint needs to recover and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.”

Water pipes in Flint, Michigan. (Source)

Has Bernie supported legislation protecting our water?

Bernie introduced the The Rebuild America Act of 2015 and in 2017, Bernie joined Senate Democrats in supporting the Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure plan. The 2017 bill includes $110 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 protecting clean water?

The government is considering auctioning off Florida coastal waters for oil & gas drilling. Bernie says 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.”

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 2014, Bernie secured protection of the Missisquoi and Trout Rivers in Vermont 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, that affect freshwater basins throughout the US.

A year later, Bernie spoke out against drilling in the Chukchi Sea, which the Department of Interior estimated could have a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill if the drilling leases were used.

In 2017, he voted against repeal of the Stream Protection Rule which regulated the use of mountaintop removal to stop the devastating impact of coal mining on streams, especially in the Appalachian Mountains. He also opposed the 2017 Water Rights Protection Act that would have prohibited the government from restricting water rights as a condition of using or developing public lands. The bill prohibits setting limits on water usage and would prevent most actions to help the public during a drought crisis, such as the recent one in California.

In 2019, Bernie introduced the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability (WATER) Act of 2019 with Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. This bill creates a federal trust fund that would be responsible for transforming and modernizing our water infrastructure and sewer systems.

Additionally, Bernie is calling for a nationwide ban on Fracking : “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.”

What does Bernie’s record show in fighting pollution?

In 2015, Bernie joined Senate colleagues in speaking out against black carbon pollution. The letter 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.”

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 for 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 and Clean Air Acts to ensure environmental justice for African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. 

In his 2019 Environmental Justice plan, Bernie aims to end exposure to lead and other toxins for African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans that are present in crumbling water infrastructure and in lead paint homes. He also calls for oversight at Superfund sites to supervise the cleanup efforts. To this extent, Bernie aims to curb fossil fuel development, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline and waste treatment facilities in Camden, New Jersey.

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.

The Missisquoi River running through Sheldon, Vermont. (Image source: Wikipedia)

Public Parks & Hunting Lands

Public lands such as parks and mixed use reserves are an American legacy. Bernie supports the continued creation and maintenance of public lands and believes they are an important vehicle for economic growth. Bernie serves on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources which has jurisdiction over matters related to public lands.

What are public lands?

Public lands are owned by us and managed by the Secretary of the Interior. Different types of public land have different protections. National parks, national monuments, and national preserves are administered by the National Parks Service and are under the highest protection, they cannot be sold, and are rarely disbanded. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service manages National Wildlife Refuges. Administration of National Wilderness Areas varies because it is so widespread. Lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) 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?

There is an effort to privatize national parks. For decades, some climate change deniers have long wanted to sell a great deal of the lands and open them to potentially destructive mineral extraction and private use.

Furthermore, higher National Park fees makes public land 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 introduced the Rebuild America Act of 2015 and in 2017, Bernie joined Senate Democrats in supporting the Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure plan. The 2017 bill sets aside $20 billion a year to invest in public lands which would include improving 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 lands and wildlife refuge areas and opposed a 2017 effort in the House as well.

Along with Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Bernie introduced the Keep it in the Ground Act, which would ban all future leases and current leasing of federally owned lands for fossil fuel development, such as coal, natural gas, oil, and tar sands.

Bernie co-signed a 2015 letter urging Democratic and Republican Senate leadership to work together to find a permanent funding solution for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was created in 1964 as a way to protect more public lands without using taxpayer dollars.

Bernie cosponsored the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act of 2019, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The funding source for the LWCF is a portion of revenue from offshore oil and gas leases. The revenue has paid for local, state and national parks, forests, fish and wildlife refuges, historic sites and safeguarding drinking water. The LWCF supports 9.4 million domestic jobs and contributes $1.06 trillion annually to the economy.

Grand Canyon National Park, which is protected by the LWCF. (Image source: U.S. NPS)

What are some of Bernie’s accomplishments 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.

Bernie talks about the Waterfront project in episode 51 of the “Bernie Speaks with the Community”, a public access television series. 

The view of Lake Champlain as seen from Burlington, Vermont. (Image source: Thrillist)

Addressing Climate Change

Bernie calls climate change the single greatest threat facing our planet and that if we don’t make significant changes in the next 11 years, the human, environmental, and economic costs will be severe and irreversible.

To face this real and an existential threat this is Bernie’s plan:

  • Pass a Green New Deal 
  • Invest in infrastructure to protect the communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change
  • Reduce carbon pollution emissions by building out high-speed passenger rail, electric vehicles, and public transit.
  • Ban fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure 
  • Ban fossil fuel leases on public lands.
  • End exports of coal, natural gas, and crude oil.

Click here to learn more about Bernie’s record on climate change and how he plans to address the climate crisis.