Energy & Environment

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stands with 350.org's Bill McKibben during the largest march against climate change in history, the People's Climate March, in New York City on September 21, 2014.

As a member of both the Environment and Public Works and the Energy and Natural Resources Committees, Sen. Sanders is uniquely positioned to fight for progressive energy policies and increased environmental protection – issues of great importance to him and to all Vermonters. Sen. Sanders is a leading voice on the need to address global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change

The need to address the planetary crisis of global climate change has become even more urgent. The military believes global warming could result in food and water scarcity, mass migrations of people, and wars fought over shrinking natural resources, all of which could destabilize global security. All across the planet, we are seeing record heat waves, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, extreme droughts and floods, and devastating wildfires.
Because global warming is the greatest environmental threat facing the planet, Sen. Sanders, along with Sen. Boxer, introduced the Climate Protection Act of 2013. This bill would tax carbon and methane emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas production, and use the revenue to make historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. It would also triple funding for advanced energy research, and make huge investments in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, plug-in electric vehicles, and other clean technologies. The proposal would also provide rebates to consumers to offset any efforts by oil, coal or gas companies to raise prices.

In addition, Sen. Sanders introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act to end subsidies to the huge fossil fuel companies that have long benefited from decades of generous tax breaks and loan programs.

“Unless we take bold action to reverse climate change, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn't the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community was sure would come?”

- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Clean Power Plan

Sen. Sanders applauds the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan as a set of common-sense standards to reduce the carbon pollution that causes global warming. While much more must be done to avoid a planetary crisis, reducing emissions from dirty coal-fired power plants is a good step. Shutting down old power plants and replacing them with solar, wind and other renewable and sustainable sources of energy will also create hundreds of thousands of jobs and save consumers billions of dollars.

Vermont is the only state not covered under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-proposed carbon pollution rules because the state does not have any fossil fuel-fired power plants. Under the proposal, Vermont may collaborate with other states in the New England region to meet a multi-state goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In unveiling the proposal, the Obama administration specifically cited Efficiency Vermont 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.

Energy Efficiency

Sen. Sanders recently introduced the Residential Energy Savings Act to provide funding for energy efficiency financing programs that help homeowners and residents invest in retrofits for energy efficiency. Sen. Sanders was also the architect of innovative weatherization and energy efficiency finance programs that help homeowners, small businesses and schools access funding for energy efficiency retrofits. Sen. Sanders' efforts have helped over 15,000 Vermont households save on their energy bills in the last ten years. In addition, Sen. Sanders 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. Sen. Sanders also joined with Vermont's Gov. Peter Shumlin to host a Vermont Clean Energy Finance Summit, which brought together scientists, economists, utility executives and senior government officials to examine new ways for Vermont to lead the way toward clean energy by helping fund energy efficiency and sustainable energy projects.

Green Jobs

Sen. Sanders' legislative accomplishments include working with then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to write the Green Jobs Act (Title X of P.L. 110-140), which created a green jobs workforce training program, and working with Sen. Robert Menendez to write the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program (Section 541 of P.L. 110-140), 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. Vermont received about $16.5 million to help retrofit homes and buildings to save energy. In addition, the stimulus funded a $69 million investment in a smart grid in Vermont to help consumers reduce energy use and to help Vermont better integrate intermittent renewable energy sources like solar onto the grid.

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Sen. Sanders introduced legislation in June 2013 to add the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers in northern Vermont to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act will protect the natural, cultural, and recreational qualities of the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers, enabling continued enjoyment of the rivers by fishermen, hunters and paddlers. It will also help maintain good water quality within the rivers, as well as in Lake Champlain, into which the Missisquoi River flows.

Vermont’s Partnership with the Department of Energy

Sen. Sanders is working to help Vermont become a model for the nation in moving to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. To further Vermont's efforts in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, Sen. Sanders has worked with Sandia National Laboratory to create a Vermont/Sandia partnership that has already received $4 million in funding from the Department of Energy. This unique collaboration between a national energy lab and Vermont's state government, clean tech businesses, and academic institutions is advancing smart grid technologies, cyber-security and solar energy. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited Vermont in May to see first-hand how Vermont is on the edge of transforming its energy systems from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. In remarks at Middlebury College, the Secretary said that Vermont “really looks unique” in terms of public and private cooperation on energy issues. Furthermore, in September Sandia installed two solar arrays totaling 66 kW at the Department of Energy’s Vermont Regional Test Center in Williston. The performance data acquired from this project will help to better integrate solar power into Vermont’s electrical grid.

Nuclear Safety

Sen. Sanders is one of the most vocal critics of continuing government subsidies and special tax breaks for the nuclear industry, and has called for an end to the Price-Anderson government liability insurance for nuclear reactors. Following the disaster in Fukushima, Sen. Sanders pressed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to swiftly adopt safety reforms recommended by a special task force of senior NRC staff. In May 2014, Sen. Sanders introduced the Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act to give states and local communities “a meaningful role” in preparing decommissioning plans. Rep. Peter Welch has introduced a companion bill in the House to similarly give states a “seat at the table” when it comes to decommissioning. The announced closure of the Vermont Yankee power plant will help Vermont move toward safer and more sustainable sources of energy like wind, solar, and geothermal, and Sen. Sanders is working aggressively to make sure the decommissioning process for the plant happens quickly and safely.

The Military and Sustainable Energy

Sen. Sanders believes the military can play a key role in helping our nation transform our energy system to cleaner energy alternatives. Working with the Vermont National Guard, Sen. Sanders helped fund a 1.45 megawatt solar energy project at the Vermont Air National Guard base, the second largest solar installation in the state. This project is meeting 40 percent of the Guard's electricity needs while saving an estimated $250,000 a year in energy costs. In addition, Sen. Sanders chaired a Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee hearing to examine how the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force are investing in advanced bio-fuels to reduce dependence on oil, and how solar and other sustainable technologies are helping reduce the risk of harm to our troops by reducing the amount of fuel that needs to be hauled through dangerous territory.