NEWS Bernie Sanders’ $16 Trillion Climate Plan Is Nothing Short of a Revolution
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On Thursday, Bernie Sanders released his long-awaited presidential climate plan. And folks, Bernie is gonna Bernie.
You can hear his voice in everything as it spits hot fire about prosecuting the fossil fuel industry, uplifting workers, and creating a whole swath of new public works programs and infrastructure. It also calls for 100 percent renewable energy for transportation and electricity sectors by 2030 while eschewing nuclear power and demilitarizing the world, setting a goal that’s somewhere between wildly ambitious and out of reach. In that regard, it perfectly captures the iconoclastic nature of the Vermont senator himself. But whether it can be implemented is a big question mark.
Former presidential candidate Jay Inslee, who exited the 2020 race on Wednesday, made waves when he announced a $9 trillion plan to combat climate change, a large portion of which would be leveraged investments from the private sector. Sanders’ plan goes much, much further. It guarantees a $16.3 trillion investment through 2030 to radically reshape American life and address the climate crisis.
The plan itself doesn’t focus on where the money will come from, though the campaign did say it would come in part from new taxes on the rich, raising revenue from the plan itself, reduced social safety net costs, and a few other sources. Instead, it focuses on who gets the money. The plan commits trillions of dollars to grants for low– and middle-income families to do everything from home weatherization to buying a new electric vehicle, and it would create a whole new host of publicly owned energy and internet infrastructure. It also uses language like “we will spend,” “we plan to provide,” and “give.” I’m not going all bUt HoW wIlL wE pAy FoR iT, given that we need a livable planet, but the language and the recipients themselves are the message: This is a goddamn revolution.
Among the outlays, Sanders would commit $2.37 trillion to renewable energy and storage, which the plan says would be enough of an investment to meet the country’s energy needs. Any renewable energy the government generates would be publicly owned, and a Sanders administration would prioritize selling it to publicly owned utilities and cooperatives at current rates to keep costs down. The campaign estimates that alone would raise $6.4 trillion of the $16.3 trillion needed to fund the transition. The plan highlights this under a bullet point about needing to “end greed in our energy system.”
To that end, the plan also says Sanders would instruct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to go after fossil fuel companies for both civil and criminal penalties. So far, cases winding through the state court systems have largely failed to hold Big Oil accountable for lying to everyone from the public to shareholders. There may be a federal precedent, though.
Michael Gerrard, the director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told Earther that Sanders “is trying to replicate and go beyond what happened in 2006, when after a lengthy trial DOJ obtained the civil conviction of eleven major tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO).” The result of that case changed how Big Tobacco could advertise and forced them to issue corrective statements about the adverse effects of smoking, though no fines were levied. I would venture to guess a Sanders’ DOJ would hope for a stronger outcome.