Sanders Calls for Nationalization of Energy Production — ‘Can’t Nibble Around the Edges’

On Thursday’s “All In” on MSNBC, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) outright admitted to host Chris Hayes a federal government takeover of energy production would be required by his plan to combat climate change.

Hayes raised the possibility of an extension of some form of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Sanders responded by saying it would require government-manufactured electricity “from solar and from wind and from other sustainable energies.”

Partial transcript as follows:

HAYES: Joining me now Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont.

Senator, it’s a long plan. It’s like — you know, it’s pages and pages, and I read it today, and the biggest thing I was taken by is the sheer ambition. It is enormous in scope for what it imagines.

SANDERS: Well, Chris, this is the way I look at it. You can approach climate change the way Donald Trump does, call it a hoax, deny the reality, and that is obviously an incredible danger for the planet. Or you could say well you know, climate change is real but we can’t do all that much, we can’t really disrupt the economy, we can’t do that, we can’t do that, we got to look at it from a political point of view.

Or the third approach which I have tried to take you, is to say look, the scientific community tells us we have a handful of years in which we must act boldly and transformatively to move away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy or else the planet we will be leaving for our children and future generations will be a planet that is increasingly unhealthy and uninhabitable.

Man, I just came from Paradise, California, and you remember the tragedy there, unbelievable, unbelievable. It looked like a bomb we’ve dropped in that community. So if we believe, Chris, that climate change is real. If we believe what the scientists are telling us, we have got to be bold. We have got to be comprehensive. We have got to be aggressive. That is what that plan is about.

HAYES: There’s — I want to talk about one part of the plan that I find fascinating which is about how power is generated and distributed. You talk about there’s public — there’s some federal public administration of power in this country based on the Tennessee Valley Authority and others, and basically, you propose essentially a federal takeover of the whole thing that essentially a Tennessee Valley Authority extension for the whole country, right? Am I — am I understanding that correctly?

SANDERS: Yes, that’s — you’re in the ballpark. That’s right. Look, the TVA has done a lot of good work. It produces electricity from hydropower and other sources. What we need to do is have an aggressive federal government saying that we are going to produce a massive amount of electricity from solar and from wind and from other sustainable energies and we will sell it out. And by the way, we’re going to make money doing that.

But you can’t nibble around the edges anymore. We need to transform our energy system. That means a massive increase in sustainable energy.

HAYES: So I think people that watch the program know that I am not exactly a deficit hawk. I’m not — you know, I think that America is a very wealthy country. It can afford a lot of big investments, but this is really large.

I mean, the amount of money we’re talking about you’re talking about in the plan replacing every old diesel school bus which is a really good idea from a climate perspective replacing old mobile homes in the country, right. It’s big and comprehensive. When people say to you how do you pay for it, is this a thing that America can afford, you say what?

SANDERS: Well, the first thing is we cannot not afford it. I mean, we are playing for the future of the planet so we have got to do it. And second of all, we pay for this in a number of ways. And one of the ways we pay for it is as you have just described, a massive federal project that produces sustainable energy, it’s going to make money as well.

Furthermore, we do away with the tax breaks and the subsidies that the fossil fuel industry now receives, which in fact is massive. Thirdly, we create 20 million new jobs as we transform our energy system and improve our infrastructure, and those are going to be good-paying union jobs, and those folks are going to be paying taxes fourthly for a variety of reasons. We’ve got to cut military spending.

Fifthly, we do away with Trump’s huge tax breaks for the rich. And six, we have a progressive tax system which demands large corporations and the rich start their fair share of taxes.

HAYES: So on the on the job creation, that $20 million — the 20 million job number jumped out at me and at first I thought, well this is implausible just even within the plan. But the plan, when you’re talking about like replacing every diesel school bus in America which is what the plan calls for, that’s a lot of jobs. What is your — to me there’s a — there’s a mismatch between the promises and the reality that makes these things hard, right?

There are coal workers right now out of work in Wyoming. There are co- workers who are stationed I think in Harlan County, Kentucky not getting their pensions, not letting those that coal move because they’ve been screwed time and time again. What do you say to them when they say, why should I believe that the promise you’re making can be a reality?

SANDERS: Well, one of the things that we do — and we put many, many tens of billions of dollars into a just transition program which says to those coal miners and the men and women to work on the oil rigs, you are not our enemy. You’re working to feed your family. I am perhaps the strongest pro-union, pro-work member of the Congress. Those people are not my enemy. What is my enemy is climate change?

And we have a very, very strong approach to make sure that those workers get trained for new jobs, they get the health care that they need, they get the educational opportunities that they need. But the bottom line of all of this, Chris, is either we believe in what the scientists are telling us, or we do not.

And if we believe what they are telling us, is that we got fewer than 12 years in order to transform our energy system or else there will be irreparable damage done to our country and the planet. Well, if that is the reality, I happen to believe the scientists, then we have to act comprehensively.

The last point that I want to make on this, Chris. This is not just an American issue. And what is so very dangerous about Trump is that we need a president who is leading the world. That’s hard. That is really hard. If you think what I’m talking about for our country is difficult, try getting Russia, and China and India, all these other countries about and what I have been saying, and I know that this is not going to happen, some are, but maybe just maybe in the midst of this crisis, maybe the countries of the world wake up and understand that instead of spending $1.5 trillion every year on weapons of destruction designed to kill each other, maybe we pool our resource together, and we combat our common enemy which is climate change.

HAYES: You know, you raise the international stakes and, of course, the U.S. is somewhere around 30 percent of world emissions. Even if we do everything right and China and India emit and as Africa develops, right, and it begins emitting more, we’re all in a lot of trouble.

I want to ask this question because you give a speech once about the rise of the sort of the far populous right across the world. And I think Bolsonaro in Brazil is an example of that. Do you see a connection essentially between that movement and the climate battle like we are seeing play out in Brazil?

SANDERS: I do. I mean, I think you have right-wing extremists like Bolsonaro, and like Trump who are appealing to working-class people and say see all these wealthy environmentalists, they don’t care about you. They’re talking about some nonsense which isn’t applicable to your lives.

And that is why we need a kind of movement that brings working-class people into it and says we are on your side. And your kids and your grandchildren are going to need a planet which is habitable and healthy, but you are not going to be punished for what the fossil fuel industry is doing. We’re going to protect your jobs.

HAYES: All right, Senator Bernie Sanders, it’s a really interesting plan. It is really ambitious in scope. And folks, definitely check it out. It’s on the Web site. Thank you very much.

SANDERS: Thank you, Chris.

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