Best environmentalist candidate, Bernie Sanders


Many enviros are thrilled that Bernie Sanders is running for president, according to Bill McKibben, the author/ activist who has been called “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist” by The Boston Globe.

McKibben explained:

“(Sanders is) a stand-up guy. When we told him about the Keystone Pipeline in the summer of 2011, he immediately set to work helping us block it. He strategized, he used his bully pulpit in the Senate to spread the word, and he devoted staff time to pressuring the State Department. Contrast that with, say, Barack Obama who was mostly silent about climate change his whole first term, and managed to make it all the way through the 2012 campaign without discussing it. Or Hillary Clinton, who after initially saying she was ‘inclined’ to approve Keystone has gone entirely mum on the most iconic environmental issue of our time. Who showed up in New York for the People’s Climate March? Bernie Sanders. Who said, straightforwardly in today’s official announcement, ‘the peril of global climate change, with catastrophic consequences, is the central challenge of our times and our planet.’ That would be Bernie Sanders.”

Climate Hawks Vote ranks Sanders as the number one climate leader in the Senate for the 113th Congress. He has been rated as one of the top three in the two previous sessions.

The group measures leadership, not just voting records, tabulating actions like bills introduced, speeches given and so forth.

In 2013, Sanders introduced — along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) — the Climate Protection Act. It would tax carbon and methane emissions and rebate three-fifths of the revenue to citizens, then invest the rest in energy efficiency, climate resiliency and sustainable energy (including investments in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and plug-in vehicles).

In 2013, Sanders introduced the Residential Energy Savings Act to fund financing programs that would help residents retrofit their homes for energy efficiency.

In 2012, Sanders introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, to eliminate subsidies and tax breaks for coal, oil and gas producers. He said at the time, “It is immoral that some in Congress advocate savage cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while those same people vote to preserve billions in tax breaks for ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in America.” He’s also an opponent of subsidies and tax breaks for the nuclear power industry.

In 2010, Sanders authored a bill to encourage the development of “distributed solar power” all over the United States. That means anyone with a solar panel could create their own energy instead of depending on a monopolistic utility company. Sanders called it the “10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act.”

Given the balance of power in Congress, none of these bills passed.

The Energy & Environment website notes that Sanders has been a crucial progressive advocate as a member of both the Environment and Public Works and the Energy and Natural Resources Committees.

Sanders is the only major party presidential candidate to support a ban on fracking. “I’m very proud that the state of Vermont banned fracking,” he said last year. “I hope communities all over America do the same.”

Bill McKibben praises Sanders’ stellar environmental record. “He’s been the most consistent and pro-active voice in the entire Keystone fight,” McKibben says. “Everything that’s been needed — from speeches on the floor to legislation to demands that the State Department change its absurd review process — he and his staff have done immediately and with a high degree of professionalism. … On climate stuff he’s been the most aggressive voice in the Senate. … He understands it for the deep, simple problem it is: that we can’t keep burning this stuff.”

McKibben says that what is “really remarkable” about Sanders is that the environment is “not his defining issue. …[H]e fits no one’s stereotype of an enviro. He doesn’t put on a spandex suit and go crosscountry skiing. … He doesn’t go on and on about the woods and the rivers — he goes on and on about working class Vermonters who can’t afford health care and heating oil. His issue is inequality and unfairness, and it has been from the start.”

McKibben says that Sanders is “just the kind of ally we (environmentalists) need. Because it’s a constant reminder that this battle is for people, who need renewable energy so they can break the constant cycle of struggling to pay the fuel bill, and because it will be the source of good jobs.”

In his presidential campaign, Sanders can provide a bridge between the labor and environmental movements so a powerful coalition can be built. We are seeing the beginnings of such a coalition in the fight against the Trans Pacific Partnership. We can only beat the plutocrats if we work together.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.