Independent Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has a plan to kill two birds with one stone.
The first bird? He wants to spend $3 billion to provide solar panels for America’s poor over the next 15 years. The second bird is moving us further away from our dependence on oil, coal, and other dirty fuels—and he’s going to do it not by trusting America’s corporations to do the right thing, but instead by providing for America’s most vulnerable citizens with a common-sense fix for one of life’s most significant expenses: home energy.
Sanders formally introduced this legislation as the Low Income Solar Act, echoing a similar message he’s sent to Congress in past years: empowering our low-wage earners is not a job for a welfare state, but for a country that values equal opportunity.
Mr. Sanders said:
“The scientific community tells us very clearly if we're going to reverse climate change and the great dangers it poses for the planet we must move aggressively to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy ... we can achieve this goal, save families money and protect the planet for future generations.” - U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
This particular piece of legislation seems well-timed; the Obama administration has previously expressed interest in building solar panels on federally subsidized housing.
The Rising Economic Tide
There’s little doubt that programs like these could have a profound impact on the economy and the country at large. Bringing thousands of households into the “solar fold” will help drive down the cost of adopting alternative fuels for everybody, effectively making solar power an affordable alternative for families who otherwise couldn’t afford it.
It will also help to jump-start the still-nascent alternative energy industry which has, despite surprisingly strong performance, been held back by the influence of America’s largest energy providers: oil companies.
By enlisting the government to push more money into solar initiatives, Sanders hopes to jump-start an already growing industry into something that stands a chance of upsetting the balance of power that has favored Big Oil for far too long.
A Strong Precedent
Despite the fact that Sanders is frequently referred to by the corporate media as a “long-shot” and a “radical,” the truth is something else entirely: his message is resonating with a significant number of Americans.
But perhaps more importantly, his $3 billion solar plan has a strong precedent. For decades, the federal government has subsidized phone service for lower-income Americans who came to rely on phones for their livelihoods.More recently, there have been calls to phase out phone subsidies in favor of low-cost, high-speed broadband
for the same purpose: to provide the services -- either cheaply or freely -- that most Americans depend on to put food on the table.
In other words, cheap solar power is just the latest example of a government leveraging both its largesse and its access to emerging technologies to provide important opportunities to those who need them most.
And it’s the best example of a win-win situation; America’s low-income households get a bit of help that they desperately need, and government money goes where it should have been going all this time: to civic- and ecologically-responsible companies.
But more than that, Bernie Sanders is building on a movement in America that seems a radical departure from the once-popular, Atlas Shrugged-fueled idea that economic opportunity must flow from the top down. We’re beginning to see what happens when we look to the underprivileged around us, whether we’re fighting for proper care for veterans or making sure underprivileged Americans have the tools they need to prosper.
But we'd expect nothing less from Bernie, who seems to be campaigning not for himself, but for the American people. With every step on his campaign trail, he convinces more and more Americans to vote for the truth instead of a particular version of it. As his popularity gains traction, let's hope his latest piece of legislation does, too.