2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is out with yet another climate proposal, this time to prosecute fossil fuel executives for causing climate change. In a tweet, the Vermont senator laid out his plan to go after certain energy companies:
“Bernie promises to go further than any other presidential candidate in history to end the fossil fuel industry’s greed, including by making the industry pay for its pollution and prosecuting it for the damage it has caused.”
The problem? Sanders didn’t explain what laws these companies have broken. Spoiler alert: Providing affordable, reliable energy isn’t a crime anywhere, least of all in the United States.
But because Sanders personally doesn’t like what these companies do, he believes they should be taken to court.
To achieve this, Sanders would direct the U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission to pursue criminal and civil charges. This sets a dangerous precedent of the President of the United States directing independent law enforcement organizations that are traditionally outside the scope of partisan politics to target companies based on the personal preferences of elected leaders.
News flash: that’s not how democracy works. And that’s not how our justice system works.
Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, critiqued Sanders’ blatant misrepresentation of conspiracies and illegal actions:
It seems to be widely believed in the land of #TwitterLaw that not only were doctrines of civil liability changed retroactively in the 1990s to nail tobacco companies (which is true) but that criminal law was changed retroactively as well, and tobacco execs sent to prison.
“If you’re going to propose a massive, $16 trillion plan, the first thing you should do is get as many people on board as possible. Instead, Sanders practically revels in pissing off as many stakeholders as possible. He’s going to tax the rich. He’s going to hobble the fossil fuel industry. He’s going to ban nuclear power. He’s going to nationalize electric generation and turn it over to the federal government.” (emphasis added)
Even those who oppose fossil fuels acknowledged that Sanders’ plan doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of environmental politics at the University of California at Santa Barbara said:
“I don’t think he can back it up with the law. But the fossil fuel industry does need to wake up, and his rhetoric is helpful in that regard.” (emphasis added)
“We do not know, precisely, what the most efficient path looks like. We are also certain that Mr. Sanders does not.”
Serious solutions are needed to keep the American economy strong while making progress to protect the environment. It’s clear that Sanders does not offer that. Instead he seems intent on releasing unrealistic proposals, making up the law as he goes along, to prosecute those he doesn’t like. That’s a dangerous threat to the American economy and our democratic and judicial systems.