Energy & Environment

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) stands with'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 Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Sanders has long fought for progressive energy policies, strong environmental protection, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to address global climate change.

Climate Change

The overwhelming majority of scientists believe climate change is real, is caused by human activity, and is already causing devastating problems in the U.S. and around the world.  If we do not act boldly, the situation will only become much worse in years to come in terms of devastating droughts, wildfires, floods, extreme storms, rising sea levels and acidification of the oceans. The Department of Defense says global warming is a national security threat that could result in food and water scarcities, mass migrations of people, and wars fought over access to shrinking natural resources.

Senator Sanders believes that global warming is the greatest environmental threat facing the planet.  That is why he introduced the Climate Protection and Justice Act, to tax carbon and methane emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas at the source of production, and to use the revenue to make historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy. The bill would also triple funding for advanced energy research and make huge investments in wind, solar, geothermal, plug-in electric vehicles, and other clean energy technologies. The proposal would also provide rebates to consumers to offset any efforts by oil, coal, or gas companies to raise prices.

Moreover, this legislation would invest in climate resiliency projects and energy efficiency measures for low-income and minority communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.  It would also help farmers adopt low-carbon practices like no-till production, sustainable fertilizer application, and biodigesters as part of a manure management strategy.

“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 Energy

Senator Sanders is proud that Vermont is helping lead the nation in clean energy deployment. According to the 2015 Vermont Clean Energy Industry Report, 5 percent of Vermont’s workforce is involved in the clean energy sector, and jobs in the solar industry grew more than 20 percent between 2013 and 2014. In fact, Vermont now ranks second in solar jobs per capita, notwithstanding its northern climate and sometimes less-than-sunny weather.

In December 2015, Senator Sanders introduced three bills to promote renewable energy and transition our workforce to a clean energy economy:

The American Clean Energy Investment Act of 2015 would expand and make permanent tax incentives to develop wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.  This bill would strengthen energy efficiency incentives for homes and businesses, promote the development and use of alternative transportation fuels to help Americans move beyond oil, and make clean energy more accessible to non-profit organizations like churches and community groups by making the tax incentives refundable.

The Low-Income Solar Act would help ensure that all Americans can benefit from the energy and cost savings of solar, by providing grants to low-income families to offset the upfront costs of residential solar arrays, and by improving access to community solar projects. 

The End Polluter Welfare Act would end subsidies to the huge fossil fuel companies that have long benefited from decades of generous tax breaks, subsidized leases and loan programs.  According to the Congressional Research Service, for every $80 of taxpayer money has been invested in fossil fuels over the past 15 years, just $1 has been invested in renewable energy.  It’s time to turn that equation around.

Energy Efficiency

Residential and commercial buildings account for more than 40 percent of all energy use in the United States. Senator Sanders’ Residential Energy Savings Act would fund energy efficiency financing programs that help homeowners and residents invest in energy efficiency retrofits. 

This bill would build on the Energy Efficiency Block Grant Program that Senator Sanders authored, which provided $3.2 billion through the 2009 economic stimulus bill to states and cities to help homeowners, small businesses and municipalities implement innovative weatherization and energy efficiency projects.

Senator Sanders has also championed "on-bill financing," whereby utilities loan customers money to improve energy efficiency or install renewable energy sources like solar panels and geothermal pumps, and then the customers repay the loans in monthly installments on their utility bills.

Senator Sanders also worked with Sen. Leahy and Rep. Welch to help secure $69 million through the economic stimulus bill to create the first statewide “smart grid” in the nation.  This investment has increased grid resiliency and is making it easier to integrate intermittently available renewable energy sources like solar and wind.  This smart grid, and the widespread deployment of smart meters, is helping consumers reduce domestic and commercial energy use.

Clean Power Plan

Senator Sanders applauds the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, a common-sense plan to reduce emissions from dirty coal- and oil-fired power plants.  While the Plan is an excellent first step, we must go much further to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.  We must begin shutting down old power plants and replacing them with solar, wind, and other renewable and sustainable sources of energy – to reduce carbon emissions, save consumers billions of dollars, and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the clean energy sector.

When it unveiled the Clean Power Plan proposal, the Obama administration cited Efficiency Vermont as a model for utilities around the country to provide technical assistance, rebates, and other financial incentives to help households and businesses become more energy-efficient and reduce energy costs.


The transportation sector accounts for 70 percent of petroleum use and more than a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. New efficiency standards will nearly double the fuel economy of cars and light-duty trucks by 2025, reducing gasoline consumption by 12 billion barrels over 10 years.  However, U.S. fuel standards still lag behind those of many other nations.  We must do better.

In 2015, Americans purchased an all-time high of 17.5 million cars and light trucks, most of which ran on standard, internal combustion engines.  Senator Sanders recognizes the importance of cleaner and more efficient transportation and has introduced legislation to help promote the development and adoption of electric-drive and alternative-fueled vehicles.

Green Jobs

There is no question that a clean energy economy will create hundreds of thousands of well-paying new jobs.  However, there clearly will be some job disruption, and to ease that transition Senator Sanders has introduced the Clean Energy Workforce Just Transition Act to help retrain workers and make investments in a 21st century economy, including clean energy technologies, broadband infrastructure, and entrepreneurial hubs in regions most impacted by the shift away from fossil fuels.

This proposal builds on Senator Sanders' Green Jobs Act, which created a green jobs workforce training program.  Funded through the 2009 economic recovery package, every state received funding to train workers to help retrofit homes and buildings to save energy. Vermont received about $16.5 million through this effort.

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Senator Sanders, Sen. Leahy and Rep. Welch introduced legislation to add the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.  In December 2014, the rivers received designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to protect their natural, cultural, and recreational qualities and enable continued enjoyment of the rivers by fishermen, hunters and paddlers.  This designation 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

Senator Sanders successfully worked with Sandia National Laboratory to establish a presence in Vermont to advance solar energy, smart grid, and cyber-security research.  Funded through the Department of Energy, this collaboration involves state government, clean technology businesses, electric utilities and local academic institutions. The first major project was establishing Regional Test Center in Williston, Vermont, to test new solar technologies in a northern climate, and to better integrate intermittently available renewable power into the electrical grid.  Sandia has already installed nine solar arrays at the RTC – some designed and manufactured by Vermont companies – with more than 140 kW capacity.  Other Sandia projects include a first-in-the-nation solar power and battery storage “micro-grid” in Rutland, and a regional smart grid pilot project.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited Vermont in 2014 to see first-hand how the state is transforming its energy systems from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. In remarks at Middlebury College, Secretary Moniz praised Vermont’s public and private cooperation on energy issues.

Nuclear Safety

Senator 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 program for nuclear reactors. Following the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, Senator Sanders pressed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to swiftly adopt safety reforms recommended by a special task force of senior NRC staff.

The closure of the Vermont Yankee power plant will help the state move toward safer and more sustainable sources of energy like wind, solar, and geothermal, and Senator Sanders is working aggressively to make sure the decommissioning process for the plant happens quickly and safely while giving Vermonters a seat at the table.  His experiences with the Vermont Yankee plant led him to introduce the Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act in 2015 to give states and local communities a meaningful role in decisions regarding plant decommissioning.

The Military and Sustainable Energy

Senator Sanders believes the military can play an important role in helping transform our energy system to cleaner energy alternatives.  That is why, as the Chair of the Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee, he held a hearing to examine how the Pentagon is investing in advanced biofuels 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.

To demonstrate the potential for renewable energy deployment on military bases, Senator Sanders secured funding for a 1.45 megawatt solar project at the Vermont Air National Guard base, the second largest solar installation in the state. This project is now meeting 40 percent of the Guard's electricity needs while saving an estimated $250,000 a year in energy costs.