Skip directly to content

Sanders and Boxer Propose New Climate Change Legislation


On Thursday, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), accompanied in the Senate by the nation’s prominent environmental activists including Bill McKibben of and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, introduced a package of climate change mitigation legislation that could make the United States a world leader in confronting climate change.


The Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act would work jointly to reduce the nation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) generation, with a goal of cutting down the emissions by 80% by 2050 as compared to the year 2005.  To reach this goal, the two bills introduce a series of unprecedented measures that, if adopted, have the potential to turn the tide in the nation’s so far sluggish fight with climate change.


Among the key provisions of the proposed legislation is a fee levied on every ton of carbon or methane equivalent produced in the United States.  This fee will be imposed on the largest fossil-fuel polluters– less than 3,000 industries that together produce 85% of the nation’s greenhouse gases.  The levy would also apply to imported energy sources from countries that do not charge GHG emitters, to level the playing field.  The revenue, estimated at $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, would be used to mitigate the effects of climate change and support programs and measures that promote environmental sustainability.


More specifically, 3/5 of the total revenue ($720 billion) would be distributed among the legal residents of the United States on a monthly basis, in a manner similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund, to help offset any surges in energy prices that could result from the new legislation.  The bills also establish generous funds for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, including alternative energy research and the weatherization of 1 million homes every year, as well as re-training of oil and coal industry workers in preparation for new green jobs. 


The new legislation would also introduce transparency requirements for companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking).  Importantly, it would strike the so-called Halliburton exemption to the Clean Water Act,  which exempts oil and gas companies from compliance with certain groundwater safety standards.  Additionally, these companies would be obligated to disclose to the public all the chemicals used in the process.


Other proposed projects address the need to adapt to climate change, including increasing the resilience of local infrastructure, protecting natural resources and wildlife, and helping the nation achieve its international climate change commitments.


About a quarter of the revenue ($300 billion) generated would also be spent on reducing the public debt over the next 10 years.


The bills were presented only two days after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, in which the President made an impassioned statement about the need to combat the adverse impacts of climate change.   Obama urged Congress to adopt a bipartisan solution to the problem, and threatened to take executive action if Congress failed to act.  Even though polls suggest that most people support government action on climate change, and increasingly economists have converged upon the need for a carbon tax,  already there is speculation that Republican opposition will thwart this effort in the House of Representatives.    With Senator Marco Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) leading the charge, suggesting that government policies “can’t control the weather,” Congress is gearing up for a fierce battle on the issue of climate change, particularly any measures that impose a carbon tax.


The new legislation was announced as protestors began to gather in Washington DC for what was billed as the largest climate rally in history.   On Sunday, February 17,  the eyes of the nation turned to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where, the Sierra Club, and over a hundred partnered organizations organized a rally to demand that Washington do more to confront climate change.   A key issue for participants is the infamous Keystone XL pipeline that would transport tar sand oil from Alberta, Canada, to the United States.  A number of solidarity rallies were held simultaneously across the country for those who will not be able to join the event in Washington, D.C.  Check out our Tar Sands/Keystone XL gallery to learn more about the issue, and our Forward on Climate Gallery to see media from the rally.


GoodSpeaks compiled this video about the Forward on Climate rally, with statements from attendees about the new legislation: