The Fuse

Energy Policy 2016: Spotlight on U.S. Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders

by R. Kress | July 08, 2015

Status: Declared candidacy on April 30, 2015

Party: Democrat

Career Overview: The self-described “democratic socialist” has been the junior Senator from Vermont since 2007. He sits on several energy related Senate committees including the Committee on Energy and Natural Resource and the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Prior to assuming this office, he was a member of the House of Representatives and the Mayor of Vermont’s most populous city, Burlington. At present, he’s poised to be the biggest threat to fellow candidate Hillary Clinton’s claim to the Democratic nomination as he picks up support in the early but crucial campaign stops.

Energy Policy in 2016: Although Sanders has yet to release a comprehensive energy policy plan for his White House bid, his record in the Senate and some recent interviews shed light on where he stands. In May, he told The Washington Post what his energy plan might be: “It would look like a tax on carbon; a massive investment in solar, wind, geothermal; it would be making sure that every home and building in this country is properly winterized; it would be putting substantial money into rail, both passenger and cargo, so we can move towards breaking our dependency on automobiles. And it would be leading other countries around the world.” In the same interview, he pushed for a more aggressive response to climate change.

Senate voting record: In February of 2013, Sanders joined together with Barbara Boxer (D—CA) to launch a comprehensive climate change strategy. The reforms were split into the Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act. Key initiatives included carbon pricing, an end to certain fuel subsidies, new restrictions and transparency mandates on fracking, and investments in renewable energies. Overall, the initiative sought to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. Both acts, however, faltered in Congress.

Other key votes from Sanders on energy issues include:

  • NO: Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline (1/15)
  • NO: The McConnell Amendment to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases (4/11)
  • YES: Designate part of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as protected wilderness (11/07)
  • YES: Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (6/07)
    • YES: On an amendment to remove oil and gas exploration subsidies

Keystone XL: Sanders was a key leader in the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline. On every iterative piece of legislation introduced on the issue, he was a vocal opponent to its construction. When it ultimately became clear that Congress was set to pass legislation allowing the pipeline’s construction to move forward, Sanders called on the President to veto it, stating: “Unless we get our act together, the planet that we’re going to be leaving to our kids and grandchildren will be significantly less habitable than the planet we have right now.” He called for a renewed push to “transform our energy system away from fossil fuels” instead of investing in the pipeline.

Fracking: Sanders’ home state of Vermont was the first in the entire U.S. to ban the practice—a stance supported by Sanders. In 2012 when the ban was implemented, Sanders penned an op-ed with the state’s governor, Peter Shumlin, writing in the Huffington Post: “For the nation, like Vermont, moving forward aggressively in energy efficiency and sustainable energy is a win, win, win proposition. We protect our environment by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. We save homeowners and businesses money on their heating and cooling bills. And, in the middle of a recession, we create jobs here at home, not in Saudi Arabia or Iran.”

Reducing Oil Demand: In his career, Sanders has repeatedly pushed for more stringent fuel economy standards, and has praised the standards implemented during the Obama administration, stating, “The historic agreement that the Obama administration has reached with automakers is a huge step forward for saving car owners money at the gas pump, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and creating American jobs.  By moving to 54.5 mpg, we can eliminate our reliance on Mideast oil by 2030.  That’s extraordinary and a great step forward for our country.”

Transportation Infrastructure: In January 2015, Sanders introduced a $1 trillion infrastructure bill into the Senate. The Rebuild America Act calls for upgrades to the nation’s highways, bridges and airports that Sanders estimates would create 13 million jobs. In an op-ed for The Hill, Sanders cited the American Society of Civil Engineers’ estimate that it will take $1.6 trillion to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure into a state of “good repair” by 2020. In the op-ed, he decried a nation that has allowed its infrastructure to crumble—and along with it, a thriving economy: “For most of our history, we proudly led the world in building innovative infrastructure, from a network of canals, to the transcontinental railroad, to the interstate highway system. We launched an ambitious rural electrification program, massive flood control projects, and more. These innovations grew our economy, giving our businesses a competitive advantage, providing our workers a decent standard of living, becoming the envy of the world. Sadly, that is no longer the case.” The Rebuild America Act is currently being reviewed by a Congressional committee that will weigh whether or not it should move to the House or Senate.