February 23rd, 2019 by Carolyn Fortuna Just 24 hours after announcing his presidential bid, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders raised $6 million from more than 225,000 donors. Part of his allure is his position on clean energy, as Sanders believes that, not only should the US move aggressively toward sustainability, we can achieve it while saving money for the majority of US families. Identifying the fossil fuel industry as one of the “powerful special interests that dominate our economic and political life,” Sanders will push for efficient and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass.
The US, he insists, has the ability to harness all of these sources domestically.
His campaign is about “transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice.” That includes a transition to 100% renewable energy, significant investments in clean energy technology, and transformations to a green infrastructure through energy efficiency, financial access to renewable energy, and green jobs.
“Together, you and I and our 2016 campaign began the political revolution,” he said in an email announcing his decision to seek the presidency again to supporters. “Now, it is time to complete that revolution and implement the vision that we fought for.”
“The only way we will win this election and create a government and economy that work for all is with a grassroots movement — the likes of which has never been seen in American history,” Sanders continued. “They may have the money and power. We have the people.”
In 2016, US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and a campaign member named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez initiated political discourse about a sweeping Green New Deal (GND) investment plan over a 10-year period. They said that the GND could create millions of good-paying jobs that would facilitate a just, rapid transition to 100% renewable energy and avert the worst of climate change.
A sit-in at the office of now-Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) brought national attention to the Sunrise Movement’s push for a GND, which prods the US to move to 100% renewable energy by 2030. With goals to reduce emissions through massive, rapid deployment of zero-carbon generation, the GND is gaining momentum, with 45 members of Congress, as well as hundreds of supporting groups, including Bill McKibbens’ climate-protection organization, 350.org, signed on.
In December, 2018, at an event with Sanders, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) elaborated on the GND: “This is going to be the New Deal, the Great Society, the moon shot, the civil-rights movement of our generation.”
Bernie Sanders and Clean Energy Legislation
An informational website about Bernie Sanders called FeeltheBern (“We’re regular people, unassociated with any Super PACs or billionaires”) outlines several of Sanders’ positions on clean energy.
- Energy Efficiency: The United States must transform its energy system away from fossil fuels such as oil and coal and towards energy-efficient, sustainable, clean, and renewable energy solutions such as wind, solar, and geothermal.
- Financial Access to Renewable Energy: Working families must have access to assistance in implementing sustainable energy practices at home.
- Green Jobs: Sustainable sources of energy will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
A consistent advocate for adopting new climate-neutral energy policies, Bernie Sanders has fought for improving access to renewable energy by introducing various legislative bills.
Residential Energy Savings Act: This update to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act established a voluntary loan program for property owners or tenants to finance energy efficiency upgrades of residential buildings.
Low Income Solar Act: This legislation made solar energy more accessible to low-income families who would benefit the most from a reduction in their electricity bills but were are not taking advantage of this affordable, sustainable energy source because of a combined lack of access to financing options.
Green Jobs Act: This Act allows financial and technical assistance used by community development financial institutions to develop or support small businesses that provide green jobs to low-income individuals in low-income communities. It limits such assistance to $2 million in financial assistance and $100,000 in technical assistance.
Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program: This program provides $3.2 billion to develop, promote, implement, and manage energy efficiency and conservation projects that, ultimately, create jobs. It represents the largest nationwide direct investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies at the community level in US history, rapidly increasing the number of communities directly engaged with the Department of Energy on programs to increase renewable energy capacity, technical knowledge, and deployment of energy efficiency projects at the local level.
Bernie Sanders also helped form a public-private partnership, Efficiency Vermont, the nation’s first energy efficiency utility. As Vermont’s objective advisor on saving energy through efficiency, Efficiency Vermont provides technical services and financial support to improve homes, businesses, and communities. They also train and partner with local providers of efficient goods and services.
Sanders Institute and Clean Energy
A team of “Berniecrats” launched a nonprofit, educational organization in 2017 to revitalize democracy by actively engaging individuals, organizations, and the media in the pursuit of progressive solutions to economic, environmental, racial, and social justice issues. The Sanders Institute is one of the organizations that Bernie Sanders has said will help raise awareness of “enormous crises” facing Americans.
The Sanders Institute was created by Sanders’ wife Jane O’Meara Sanders and his stepson David Driscoll. (The Senator is not affiliated with the group.) In late November, 2018, the Sanders Institute Gathering brought together thought leaders from across the country and around the world to develop bold, innovative solutions to some of our most pressing problems. People joined together at the Sanders Institute to “discuss together what we can do; come up with bold ideas and move forward,” said O’Meara Sanders.
San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz offered a vision for clean energy self-reliance during a panel discussion, describing the island’s desire for a Green New Deal “to live, to thrive, not only to survive.” Such a policy shift through progressive policy approaches to clean energy, she argued, could ameliorate infrastructure gaps left more than a year after 2 hurricanes decimated Puerto Rico. The current #fakepresident would take federal emergency money from needed areas like Puerto Rico and build a physical wall that has little to do with national security, according to experts.
Instead, the US needs to take a leading role in carbon reduction, renewable energy, improved efficiency of buildings and residences, electric transportation, energy storage, and all of the other technologies necessary to prevent the average temperature of the Earth from rising more than 2° Celsius.
It’s not just progressives who are drawn to Sanders’ message of clean US energy. Georgetown, Texas mayor Dale Ross was an unlikely environmentalist amidst a panel of activists, scientists, and legislators in Washington, DC at a December, 2018 climate change town hall hosted by Senator Bernie Sanders. “We’re at a tipping point right now,” said Ross, a Republican. “Coal cannot compete with wind and solar on cost.”
The event was convened to discuss the findings of the Fourth National Climate Assessment and to lay out an inclusive, economically viable climate-change adoption plan. Ross has embraced ecological principles at the municipal level — he’s expanded the city’s park system, begun a system of composting fruits in local schools, and installed 9 charging stations for electric vehicles. Georgetown won a 2018 Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge grant to create a virtual solar plant by renting out space for panels on the city’s businesses and homes.
David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times and moderate Republican, imploredrecently, “We also need to have faith in each other. Right now, millions of people all over are responding to the crisis we all feel. We in the news media focus on Donald Trump and don’t cover them, but they are the most important social force in America right now. Renewal is building, relationship by relationship, community by community. It will spread and spread as the sparks fly upward.”
If Sanders can bring Republicans like Ross to the proverbial clean energy table, then maybe Brooks’ hope for renewal, relationship, and community can become a political and environmental reality.