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Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu May 29, 2016

Bernie Sanders says only he supports carbon tax and 'aggressive' approach to climate change

Bernie Sanders still doesn’t want to talk about Hillary Clinton’s damn emails.

Asked for his reaction to the State Department report of Clinton’s use of a private email server, Sanders told Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd that he’d rather talk policy differences.

"Our campaign is about defeating Secretary Clinton on the real issues," he responded. "I want to break up the Wall Street banks. She doesn’t. I want to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour. She wants $12 an hour. I voted against the war in Iraq. She voted for the war in Iraq. I believe we should ban fracking. She does not. I believe we should have tax on carbon and deal aggressively with climate change. That is not her position. Those are some of the issues that I am campaigning on."

Sanders is right about Clinton’s Iraq war vote and where she stands on breaking up banks, a $15 minimum wage and fracking. (For more of their policy differences, read this.) But is he also right about their differences on carbon tax and climate change?

There’s no doubt that Sanders’ rhetoric on climate change and his plan to deal with it are aggressive and, unlike Clinton, he has advocated for a carbon tax. Clinton does, however, have a climate change plan. While some environmentalists have said it isn’t tough enough, others have given it positive reviews.

Both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns referred us to each candidate’s climate change plan.

Sanders’ plan is long and comprehensive. Beyond a tax on carbon, it includes an array of proposals from banning certain drilling and mining practices to improving the national public transit system.  

Clinton’s plan is shorter and, though it doesn’t include a tax on carbon, contains similar provisions on renewables. Here’s an overview:


Sanders’ plan

Clinton’s plan

Fossil fuel influence

• Cut tax subsidies for oil and gas companies

• Prohibit fossil fuel lobbyists from working in the White House

• Investigate climate change deniers

• Cut tax subsidies for oil and gas companies

Environmental standards

• Enact a tax on carbon

• Ban fossil fuel leasing on public lands and promote conservation and habitat preservation

• Ban Arctic oil drilling, offshore drilling, fracking, mountaintop removal coal mining and pipeline projects

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• Stop exports of natural gas and crude oil

• Defend and close loopholes in the Clean Air Act

• Increase fuel efficiency standards

• Begin a moratorium on nuclear power

• Create a national environmental and climate justice plan

• Reform fossil fuel leasing and expand clean energy production on public lands

• Defend and extend environmental standards like the Clean Power Plan

• Eliminate lead poisoning, clean up brownfield sites, and create an Environmental Justice Task Force


• Invest in clean energy infrastructure and modernize the energy grid

• Invest in clean energy, alternative fuels and energy efficiency programs

• Invest in clean energy infrastructure

• Launch a $60 billion local-state-federal clean energy partnership


As in her plan, Clinton prefers to focus on renewables on the stump. In a January Medium post responding to the Sanders camp, Clinton’s campaign manager highlighted her pledge to "make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century" in her launch speech. Clinton, who played a role in negotiating the Paris climate change agreement, herself touted her goals for more solar panel and clean electricity as "big" and "bold."

Clinton has gotten her best reviews from the League of Conservation Voters, who endorsed Clinton last fall (to some controversy). The green group considers Clinton’s plan strong and aggressive and, more importantly, achievable, Tiernan Sittenfeld, its senior vice president of government affairs, told PolitiFact.

"Hillary is focused on practical solutions," Sittenfeld said, pointing out that there are many lawmakers in Congress who still deny climate change science. "So (a carbon tax) is pretty remote possibility."

But some are skeptical of Clinton’s "boldness." Pulitzer Prize-winning website InsideClimate News called Clinton’s plan ambitious but said it "falls short of bold." The Washington Post’s editorial board said her ideas are "second best." Environmental news magazine Grist summed up her positions as not bad but "not quite the climate hawkishness we need."  

Our ruling

Sanders said, "I believe we should have tax on carbon and deal aggressively with climate change. That is not her position."

Unlike Sanders, Clinton doesn’t advocate for a carbon tax. And while Clinton doesn’t go as far as Sanders in her climate change plan, she does have one. The League of Conservation Voters supports her plan as realistic and achievable.  

We rate Sanders’ claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

NBC, Meet the Press, May 29, 2016

Email interview with Warren Gunnels, policy director for Bernie Sanders, May 29, 2016

Email interview with Josh Schwerin, spokesman for Hillary Clinton, May 29, 2016

Bernie Sanders, "Combating Climate Change to Save the Planet," accessed May 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton, "Making America the world’s clean energy superpower and meeting the climate challenge," accessed May 29, 2016

Interview with Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, May 29, 2016

Grist, 8 things you need to know about Hillary Clinton and climate change," April 12, 2015

Washington Post, "Hillary Clinton’s plan to combat climate change has a glaring hole," June 30, 2015

InsideClimate News, "Hillary Clinton's Climate Policy Ambitious, but Falls Short of Bold," July 27, 2015

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Bernie Sanders says only he supports carbon tax and 'aggressive' approach to climate change

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