Bernie Sanders proposes ambitious $16T climate plan

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Salem, Oregon. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

(CN) – True to his campaign style, Senator Bernie Sanders unflinchingly targeted the fossil fuel industry Thursday in unveiling an extensive $16.3 trillion climate plan that sets some of the most ambitious deadlines proposed yet by a presidential candidate for lowering carbon emissions.

The plan sets a deadline of as soon as 2030 to slash U.S. carbon emissions by 71% below acceptable levels fixed in 2017, but that goal is contingent upon a full-throated federal commitment to 100% renewable electricity and zero-emission cars.

Under the plan, fossil fuel use overall would be eliminated by 2050, and fracking and drilling on public land would be banned outright.

The proposal is comprehensive with the considerable investment, with Sanders saying his administration could create 20 million new jobs in steel and auto manufacturing, construction, energy efficiency retrofitting, coding and server farms and renewable power plants.

Sanders said he would raise taxes on corporate polluters as well as investors’ fossil fuel income and wealth. Those that pollute by way of fossil-fuel generation would see larger penalties, and any lingering fossil fuel infrastructure owners would be required to purchase “fossil fuel risk bond” to pay for disaster impacts.

Sanders said he also wants to reverse the 2015 decision by Congress to lifted an import and export ban on fossil fuels.

“We must no longer export any fossil fuels,” the proposal states. “Our coal and natural gas are contributing to increased emissions abroad. We will end the importation of fossil fuels to end incentives for extraction around the world. We can meet our energy needs and ensure energy security and independence without these imports.”

Through the creation of a Green Climate Fund, Sanders says the U.S. would pledge $200 billion to aid developing countries in their quest to reduce pollution by at least 36% over 10 years.

Creating new nuclear reactors is off the table but finding solutions to the existing nuclear-waste problem is very much a priority.

“We know that the toxic waste byproducts of nuclear plants are not worth the risks of the technology’s benefit, especially in light of lessons learned from the Fukushima meltdown and the Chernobyl disaster,” Sanders said. “To get to our goal of 100% sustainable energy, we will not rely on any false solutions like nuclear, geoengineering, carbon capture and sequestration, or trash incinerators.”

The plan includes new labor protections for workers, too, promising five years of unemployment insurance, guaranteed wages, vocational training and job placement for those who may have lost work in the transition to a green economy. Early retirement for those who can’t work – or choose not to – is also included.

Sanders says the deal pays for itself in 15 years, funded by fees and taxes assessed on the fossil fuel industry, and helped by ending the government’s $15 billion in subsidies for fossil-fuel generators.

Curbing funds the military spends to keep the U.S. globally dependent oil generates $1.2 trillion and another $2.3 trillion could be collected by way of income tax on revenue from jobs created in the renewable energy.

The deal also purports to earn $6.4 trillion by selling electricity produced by Energy Department power authorities.

Sanders said his administration would invest in energy-storage research and developing more sustainable plastics.

He warned that the cost of doing nothing – or falling short of the ambitious goals laid out – is greater than whatever sticker shock the plan might cause voters.

“Economists estimate that if we do not take action, we will lose $34.5 trillion in economic activity by the end of the century,” Sanders said. “And the benefits are enormous: by taking bold and decisive action, we will save $2.9 trillion over 10 years, $21 trillion over 30 years, and $70.4 trillion over 80 years.”

President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal is the inspiration for the plan, but where FDR’s plan fell short for women, minorities and people with disabilities, Sanders vows to be more inclusive.

He said his EPA would prioritize environmental justice violations through the Office of Civil Rights, create a special body known as the Office of Climate Resiliency for People with Disabilities, and make job training more readily available for low-income communities.

“Federal procurement will prioritize minority-and-women-owned businesses, cooperatives and employee-owned firms and community-owned and municipal enterprises,” the proposal states. “Programs such as the Historically Underutilized Business Zones will be expanded under the Green New Deal to promote job growth in economically distressed communities.”

The U.S. would also recommit to the Paris Climate Agreement and finally declare climate change a national emergency as well.

While the plan will draw fire from opponents who accuse Sanders of launching a government-funded socialist takeover, the senator says it includes big benefits for small businesses.

For instance, instead of subsidies going to big business, the plan buoys small business owners instead with a $31 billion investment in sustainable slaughterhouses, dairy processors and food plants.

“Rampant consolidation in processing has led to a lack of facilities for small-scale, local producers,” Sanders said. “Investing in local facilities will help smaller producers to compete with the Tyson Foods of the world.”

Farmers would also see $410 billion in revenue if they’re willing to store carbon in soil and transition to sustainable agricultural practices.

Sanders’ Green New Deal is more expensive than other leading Democratic candidate climate proposals: former Vice President Joe Biden has called for $1.7 trillion over 10 years while Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for $2 trillion. While far less expensive, neither plan is as comprehensive as the senator’s 13,000-plus-word proposal.

“We need a president who has the courage, the vision, and the record to face down the greed of fossil fuel executives and the billionaire class who stand in the way of climate action,” the proposal states. “We need a president who welcomes their hatred.”