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Bernie Sanders’s Climate Plan Takes Aim at the 1 Percent

"We’re talking about a major, major crisis," he says.

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Bernie Sanders rolled out a 16-page climate change plan on Monday that combines many of his long-held environmental positions, like dropping fossil fuel subsidies and banning offshore drilling, with a couple of new ideas.

Those new proposals include a pledge to cut carbon pollution 40 percent by 2030, primarily by instituting a carbon tax. He’d also create a Clean-Energy Workforce of some 10 million jobs, and emphasize climate adaptation and policies that put low-income communities first. 

Like Martin O’Malley and Hillary Clinton, Sanders would grow investment in clean energy and efficiency and modernize infrastructure and the energy grid. Unlike Clinton, however, Sanders isn’t shy about emphasizing his plan for slowing the supply of fossil fuels: He’d ban oil and liquefied natural gas exports, Arctic drilling, mountaintop mining, and proposed pipelines similar to Keystone XL. 

What truly separates Sanders’s plan from those of the other Democratic candidates, though, is its emphasis on special interests and big money in campaigns (which fits into the larger themes of Sanders’s campaign). The U.S. can’t take necessary action on climate change, Sanders says, until polluters lose their stranglehold on the political process. 

“Let’s be clear: the reason we haven’t solved climate change isn’t because we aren’t doing our part, it’s because a small subsection of the 1 percent are hell-bent on doing everything in their power to block action,” Sanders’s plan states.

To fight polluters, Sanders again falls back on familiar proposals: end fossil fuel subsidies, enact campaign finance reforms, and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. He also promises to ban fossil fuel lobbyists from working in the White House and to “bring climate deniers to justice,” referencing recent reports that ExxonMobil misled the public on climate science.

There’s one problem with Sanders’s plan, however, and it’s the same problem every Democratic candidate running for president faces when proposing domestic policy. He or she will likely face a hostile Republican Congress with no interest in passing legislation that limits fossil fuels or promotes renewables.

For example, Sanders’s main idea for getting to a 40-percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 is through a carbon tax that has no chance of getting through a GOP-controlled House or Senate. Could a President Sanders achieve the goal without a carbon tax? It’s unlikely. President Barack Obama, by comparison, has offered up to 28 percent in greenhouse gas or carbon cuts by 2025. Democrats will probably have to plan to act on climate change alone if they win the White House, and their plans are all weakest on how the executive branch can do more. Still, Sanders has some ideas for where to get started. He proposed to ban future fossil fuel development on federal lands, something Hillary Clinton has been unwilling to do.

That’s not to say Sanders’s ambitions are meaningless. He dropped his plan at a crucial moment internationally. Monday kicks off the second week of a closely watched conference in Paris that will map out global ambitions on climate change to 2030 and beyond. 

But domestically, his plan may not help his polls, which have plateaued. In the wake of the attacks in Paris and San Bernadino attacks, the presidential race has shifted its attention to terrorism, but Sanders has maintained that immediate terror concerns don’t trump climate change as a top priority. “I mean, we’re talking about, according to the CIA, future, major national security issues when people are forced to migrate because their countries or their land are flooded, they can’t grow food,” Sanders told New Hampshire voters on Saturday. “We’re talking about a major, major crisis.”