Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the leading Democratic presidential candidates, both served in the Senate. So how do they compare on actions taken in the Senate — votes taken and bills introduced — that affect the fossil fuels industry?
During the two years that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders served together in the Senate, they voted together — 93 percent of the time — far more often than they voted differently. Especially on routine matters and legislation that is not widely discussed in the media, senators from the same party tend to stick together.
Of the dozens of votes, Clinton and Sanders took on legislation affecting the fossil fuels industry over their two years together, they only disagreed four times:
S.Amdt. 1614 to S.Amdt. 1502 to H.R. 6: “To establish a program to provide loans for projects to produce syngas from coal and other feedstocks while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on the United States on petroleum and natural gas.” June 19, 2007.
This amendment, from Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), would have provided $10 billion in loans and grants to coal-to-liquid plants that achieve two environmental targets: capturing at least 75 percent of the carbon dioxide they produce through carbon capture and storage systems and having 20 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum facilities. The amendment would have allowed the coal-to-liquid plants to blend in biofuels in order to reach the targets.
S. Amdt. 1666 to H.R. 6: “To ensure agricultural equity with respect to the renewable fuels standard.” June 20, 2007.
This amendment, from Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), sought to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to lower the federal ethanol fuel mandate during years when the corn harvest was projected to be below a certain level due to environmental factors. The amendment was supported by livestock interests and food companies who can be negatively affected by increases in corn prices resulting from a larger portion of the harvest being used for fuels.
S. Amdt. 1800 to S.Amdt 1704 to S.Amdt 1502 H.R. 6: “To disallow the credit for renewable diesel for fuel that is coprocessed with petroleum.”
June 20, 2007.
This amendment, from Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), would have eliminated a $1 per gallon tax credit for the production of renewable biodiesel fuels.
S. Amdt. 5635 to H.R. 6049: “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide incentives for energy production and conservation, to extend certain expiring provisions, to provide individual income tax relief, and for other purposes.” September 23, 2008.
This vote was on waiving a budgetary point of order (violation of the “pay-as-you-go” rule that requires all legislation that increases spending or reduces revenues to be fully offset) for legislation that extended a package of tax provisions, including tax credits and subsidies for renewable energy. The tax package was sponsored by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) and supported by both the Democratic and Republican Senate leadership.
Both Clinton and Sanders sponsored legislation that would have had an effect on the fossil fuels industry. Here’s a look at the candidates’ top three proposals:
Sanders’ top bills impacting fossil fuels
10 Million Solar Roofs Act — Provides a 15 percent rebate (up to $10,000) to households, businesses, nonprofits, and state and local governments that purchase and install solar panel systems. Instructs the Secretary of Energy to design the rebate program with a goal of helping to finance at least 10 million solar panel systems over a ten year period. This bill was reported out of committee in 2010 and 2011, but it never received a vote on the Senate floor.
Let the States Innovate on Sustainable Energy Act —Amends the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 to clarify that states have the authority to adopt incentive programs requiring electric utilities to purchase renewable energy. The bill was designed to eliminate federal preemption issues around states’ authority to set up feed-in tariff (FIT) programs, which help states accelerate investment in renewable energy. This bill had five cosponsors, but it was never voted out of committee.
Clean Power Act — This bill would have implemented a cap-and-trade system designed to lower the emissions of four greenhouse gasses from power plants: carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and mercury. Under cap-and-trade, a hard cap is placed on emissions levels and polluters are given emissions allowances, which they can sell if they are able to stay under the cap. The bill also calls for emissions from power plants to be decreased by 3% each year if the President has not signed a legislation affecting at least 85 percent of man-made sources of global warming pollutants by 2012. The bill attracted four cosponsors but was never voted out of committee.
Clinton’s top bills impacting fossil fuels
Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act — Authorizes up to $850 million for public transportation authorities to expand public transportation services, prevent fare increases, or invest in new fuel efficient technologies. It would have also provided subsidies to federal employees who use public transportation to get to work. Another provision in the bill restricts the federal government from purchasing fuel that is not alternative, synthetic or produced from a nonconventional petroleum source to instance where alternative sources are not available and the purchase would not provide an incentive to the seller to continue or expand its production of nonconventional petroleum fuels. This bill had eight cosponsors, but it never received a vote.
Advanced Research Projects Energy Act (ARPA-E) Act — Creates and funds a new position at the Department of Energy — the Assistant Secretary for Advanced Energy Research, Technology Development, and Deployment — and instructs them to implement research projects and competitions aimed at accelerating new energy technology development and deployment. The Secretary would be authorized to issue cash prizes for outstanding research, technology development, and prototype development of new energy technologies. The bill attracted three cosponsors but was never voted on.
To provide for a suspension of the highway fuel tax — To lower fuel prices for consumers during the summer of 2008, when gas prices hit a national average of $4.10 per gallon, this bill would have suspended all federal taxes on gasoline and diesel during June, July, and August. It would have also imposed an excise tax on oil companies’ “excess profits,” defined as any amounts exceeding the average profits for fuel companies during a recent period when oil prices were lower (2000–2004). It also would have suspended acquisition of oil for the strategic petroleum reserve for the remainder of 2008 or until oil prices dropped below a certain level. The bill attracted two cosponsors, but it was never voted on.
Why did we look at fossil fuels?
At a recent campaign stop, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was asked by an activist from Greenpeace if she would pledge to reject campaign money from fossil fuel interests. Rather than answering, she responded by accusing the Bernie Sanders campaign of spreading misinformation:
“I do not have — I have money from people who work for fossil fuel companies. I am so sick — I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me,” Clinton said.
Fact checkers like Politifact and OpenSecrets have looked into the money and found that while Clinton has taken a significant amount of funding from individuals with ties to the fossil fuels industry (about $1.4 million this year when you include lobbyist bundlers), Sanders has taken some as well ($53,760). Further, neither candidate has taken even close to the amount that several Republican candidates have this cycle.