The Week in Review

The Week in Review

There was a new threat to Internet freedom on Thursday when the Federal Communications Commission floated a new proposal that Sen. Bernie Sanders called “bad for consumers, bad for the next generation of businesses and bad for democracy.”  Senate Republicans on Monday blocked consideration of a modest energy-efficiency bill. Earlier that day, the senator held a news conference on college affordability with students who are deep in debt. And as chairman of the veterans committee, Sanders held a hearing Thursday on VA health care.

Net Neutrality

Sanders delivered to the Federal Communications Commission more than 19,000 comments from consumers demanding a free and open Internet. It was part of a torrent of criticism leading up to an FCC meeting on Thursday, when the commission voted to move forward with a proposed rule that would allow Internet providers to charge fees for faster Internet access. The proposal “undercuts net neutrality and would favor wealthy corporations by allowing ‘pay to play’ rules to stifle small businesses,” said Sanders. Let the FCC know what you think

Energy Summit in Vermont

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz spoke at a Vermont Energy Summit on Friday as part of a first-hand look at how Vermont is on the cutting edge of transforming its energy systems from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. In remarks at Middlebury College, Moniz focused on the need to reduce the cost of clean energy. Vermont, he added, “really looks unique” in terms of public and private cooperation on energy issues. Sanders, a member of the Senate energy and environment committees, welcomed the energy secretary to the state to discuss clean energy success stories like Vermont’s first-in-the-nation statewide smart grid, Montpelier’s district heat project and Rutland County’s path-breaking efforts to improve energy efficiency at homes and businesses. 

Energy Efficiency

Senate Republicans this week blocked a modest energy bill that would have tightened efficiency guidelines for new federal buildings. It also included tax incentives to make homes and commercial buildings more efficient. The bill was sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rob Portman. It had 14 cosponsors, seven Republican and seven Democrats. But on a crucial vote, only two Republicans voted to keep the bill alive. Why was the bill sabotaged? Sanders on Thursday told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that the energy efficiency bill is just the latest example of how obstructionist Republicans have kept the Senate from acting on ideas supported by overwhelming majorities of Americans. Watch

Nuclear Safety

Legislation to give states a greater role in decommissioning nuclear power plants was introduced on Tuesday by Sanders.  Vermont and neighboring states should have more input in the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission process for determining what happens after the shutdown later this year of the 42-year-old Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, Sanders said. Aging plants also are projected to be mothballed in the next decade in Florida, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York and Ohio. The legislation would require plant operators to consult with states within 50 miles of a plant before submitting a decommissioning plan to the NRC. The bill would require the NRC to solicit input from the public, and it would make the NRC approve or reject every proposed decommissioning plan – something the regulatory agency does not do now. Read more

College Costs

Flanked by Vermont college students and graduates who are deep in debt, Sanders told a news conference on Monday that he will introduce legislation to help students earn college credits in high school in order to cut the cost of earning a college diploma. The senator said he supports a separate bill to lower interest rates on student loans. And, as a member of the Senate education committee, he also is working on ways to bring down college costs. The average four-year college graduate picking up diplomas this spring at commencement ceremonies across Vermont owes $28,000 in student loans, $1,000 more than the national average. As a result, Sanders said, “too many good students in Vermont and throughout the country are deciding against going to college because they fear they will face a lifetime of paying down student loans.” Read more

VA Health Care

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing Thursday to examine the V.A. medical system. Eric Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs testified that he was “mad as hell” about allegations of wrongdoing at VA facilities and vowed to take “timely action.” Asked by Sanders, the committee chairman, if employees were “cooking the books,” Shinseki said he knew of only a “number of isolated cases.” Representatives of a seven veterans service organizations testified that veterans get excellent care at VA hospitals and clinics, but they voiced concerns about access to care. At the same hearing, Richard Griffin, the acting inspector general for veterans, was asked about an investigation into waiting lists at the Phoenix VA. He told Sanders that an initial review of 17 people who died while awaiting appointments has found that none of the deaths appeared to have been caused by delays in treatment. It's another thing to conclude that as a result of being on a waiting list, that was the cause of death,” he told Sanders.