Bernie Sanders: Climate Change Is A ‘Major Planetary Crisis’ And The U.S. Must Act Now

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., center, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., left, announce new climate legislation, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. At right is Sierra Club President Aaron Mair.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told reporters Wednesday that President Obama should reject the Keystone XL pipeline before the United Nations’ conference on climate change starts at the end of the month.

“It’s imperative that we not just talk the talk but walk the walk, that the United States lead the world in combating climate change,” Sanders said.

The proposed pipeline would add 1,179 miles to the existing Keystone pipeline system. It would carry crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It has been the subject of intense campaigning from environmentalists, becoming a symbol of efforts to address climate change. Locals who would be impacted by the project have also rallied against the pipeline — landowners in Nebraska, for instance, sued to keep TransCanada off their property.

Just after Sanders spoke on Wednesday, the State Department announced that it would not accept a request from Keystone developer TransCanada to postpone review of the project’s application. The request was widely seen as a move to delay the approval process until a new administration comes into office.

The State Department has been reviewing the application for years, and many have wondered when the White House will take action.

Sanders, who is currently polling second in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, has been outspoken against the Keystone pipeline — and for acting on climate — for years, as has fellow Democratic challenger Martin O’Malley. The frontrunner on the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, recently announced that she, too, is against the pipeline.

Candidates on the Republican side have said the pipeline is important for American jobs. Donald Trump, the former front runner in the Republican race, said in August that he would “immediately approve” the pipeline. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio, and former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) have also included Keystone in their energy plans.

An economist from NYU Law School’s Institute for Policy Integrity told ThinkProgress on Wednesday that the Keystone pipeline would amount to only about 100 jobs. The State Department itself has predicted that Keystone will only create 35 permanent jobs. “When you really get into this stuff, it’s not that much gains and losses, really,” Peter Howard said.

Sanders, who spoke at a rally in the capital for a bill he co-sponsored that would ban fossil fuels extraction on federally owned land, said climate change is “a major, major, major planetary crisis” that the United States needs to take action on.

Sanders included fossil fuel workers in his speech Wednesday, saying education and training programs are needed to transition people into non-polluting jobs.

“Workers in the fossil fuel industry, through no fault of their own, they are just trying to make a living, are producing a product that is endangering our planet,” he said. “We have the moral responsibility to make sure… these workers are protected.”

Sanders blamed climate science denial in Congress on campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests. “If Republicans today stand up and say, ‘You know, I’ve listened to the scientists, I’ve read the reports, and climate change is real and we’ve got to do something about it,’ you know what happens the next day? Their funding, from the Koch brothers and from other fossil fuel industries, gets cut,” Sanders said. “Worry less about your campaign contributions. Worry more about your children and your grandchildren.”