BURLINGTON —Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, said Monday he was making good on at least one of a handful of campaign promises — introducing a bill designed to cut U.S. contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade.
The bill is identical to one introduced last year by Sen. James Jeffords, I-VT, but that went nowhere in the Republican-led Congress. Joining Sanders will be Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, among others.
“I am pleased that Sen. Sanders has lost no time in placing comprehensive global warming legislation before the U.S. Senate and proud that the work I did last year will not be lost,” said Jeffords in a statement. “Bernie clearly understands that global warming is the most serious environmental problem confronting the United States and the world, and that federal action is long past due.”
The United States has the technology to respond to the threat of global warming, and the development of new cars and other energy sources could help fuel millions of well-paying jobs, noted Sanders, who is the only member of the Senate majority to have a seat on both the energy and environment committees.
Pres. George W. Bush is expected to focus on global warming in his upcoming State of the Union speech, but it’s not clear what proposals he may advance.
“Talk is cheap; actions are what matter. But, this may be a sign there will be some consideration of post-Kyoto accord,” said Sanders, noting that the president, and Republicans, would risk political peril if they ignored the concerns of millions of people around the country in terms of global warming.
In fact, 18 months ago his office sent out a flyer with a questionnaire in it. Respondents put sustainable energy as their top issue of concern, over health care and Social Security, he said.
However, grassroots pressure and Congressional action may not be enough, as evident in the Bush administration’s “new way forward” in Iraq. The policy, which calls for an increase in troop levels, is in stark contrast to what many people in the United States, and in Congress, believe should happen in the war. Namely, a majority of people believe the country should begin withdrawing troops.
Sanders believes that with both global warming policy and the Iraq War, Bush will not be able to avoid following the lead of the majority, because Republicans are joining Democrats in their call for policy shifts.
“I think you’re also seeing this in the war in Iraq,” said Sanders. “A number of Republicans are saying that we’re leaving the ranch here and not going to go down the road with you on that disastrous policy in Iraq.”
Joining Sanders at the press conference was Steve Wright, of the Vermont chapter of the National Wildlife Federation, and a former commissioner of the state Fish & Wildlife Department.
He said polling has shown that the hunting and fishing community, which Wright described as politically conservative, “gets it.”
“They understand there are significant, monumental changes occurring in the natural systems,” he said. “They understand the notions of canaries in a coal mine that are playing out right before us.”
Along with Wright, Sanders was joined in his Burlington office by author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who first wrote about global warming in his seminal book The End of Nature, nearly 20 years ago, and Paul Burns, the executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
McKibben, who helped organize a three-day march on Labor Day weekend that culminated in a rally of more than 1,000 people in Burlington’s Battery Park, said it’s not yet clear if it’s too late to slow global warming.
“We don’t know for sure, but most scientists believe that we have a little bit of time left before the window closes,” he said.
A top climatologist at NASA said last year the United States had about 10 years to “reverse the flow of carbon into the atmosphere.” So, the clock is ticking.
Sanders said confronting global warming will also help people rethink the role of consumer consumption, both in how people interact with each other, and how the environment is treated.
Personally, Sanders said he is still driving his fuel-efficient Saturn, which gets 37 miles per gallon, and has changed about half of his home’s light bulbs to more energy efficient compact fluorescents.
He also said that he does not see nuclear power as a reasonable replacement for fossil-fuel burning power plants.
“I know lately there has been a discussion about nuclear power being an answer, but frankly, I’m not a fan of nuclear power,” said Sanders. “Decades and decades after the development of nuclear power we still haven’t answered the basic question: What do you do with the waste?”
Sanders added that construction of new power plants is “extraordinarily expensive” and he would prefer to see federal funding support used to expand the development of sustainable energy, as well as biofuels.
Burns noted that Vermont can provide leadership, through Sanders and the Vermont Legislature, to combat global warming.
He also noted that while there is concern about the role that developing countries like India and China have on global greenhouse gas emission, the United States, in both per capita and gross percentages, is the largest contributor of such pollution into the atmosphere in the world.
About the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act
The bill would require, between 2010 and 2020, that the U.S. reduce its emissions to 1990 levels. By 2030, the U.S. must reduce its emissions by one-third of 80 percent below 1990 levels; by 2040, emissions must be reduced by two-thirds of 80 percent below 1990 levels; and by 2050, emissions must be reduced to a level that is 80 percent below 1990 levels.
To achieve this goal, the bill includes a combination of economy-wide reduction targets, mandatory measures, and incentives for the development and diffusion of cleaner technologies to achieve these goals.
In the event that global atmospheric concentrations exceed 450 parts per million or that average global temperatures increase above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial average, the bill would allow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require additional reductions.