Inslee Rolls Out Climate Policy: All Clean Energy by 2030

Democratic presidential candidate and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, second from right, speaks during a Climate Strike rally at Columbia University in New York on March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

(CN) – Democratic presidential hopeful and Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Friday released a 10-year clean energy plan that he says would put the country on track to meet the stringent deadline that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a 2018 report was necessary to avoid catastrophe.

Inslee, who is running for president on a climate-focused agenda, said the first leg of his platform would slash emissions and get the country to 100% clean electricity by 2030 by modernizing the transportation sector, the electricity grid and building codes which together account for almost 70% of carbon emitted in the United States.

At a press conference Friday morning in Los Angeles, Inslee said he would soon release additional sections of his climate plan with details about how much his plan will cost, how it will spur job creation, environmental justice and equity in workforce, and how he would direct industry to focus on innovation.

Standing next to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, the governor did not mince words.

“Right now our nation faces a choice – a choice of grasping the last chance, of marshalling the best in America and the determination of America, or to take rank with those souls who would have us exist in the gray shadow of passivity and half measures,” he said. “We know this: America is not a nation of half measures. We did not go half way to the moon. We did not defeat half of fascism. When we face a challenge, we defeat it.”

If elected president, Inslee says he will “mimic actions taken in Washington state,” where the Legislature just passed a suite of climate-related bills, including one that aims to get the state to 100% carbon neutral by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2045.

But while state lawmakers did pass significant climate legislation in April, Inslee has been governor since 2013. And during those five years, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise in Washington state.

Inslee said the state’s rebounding economy was to blame.

“We’ve had a significant decline in emissions, or at least a plateau, during the recession,” Inslee told Courthouse News at an April 8 press conference. “Because the recession reduced economic activity, which reduced burning fossil fuels. Now we’ve had a huge economic boom in our state, which has brought in hundreds of thousands of people with their cars since the recession. Consequently, there has been some increase in carbon dioxide gases associated with a huge, booming economy.”

His response illustrated the main theme of his candidacy for president. During his 23 years in politics, Inslee has straddled industry and the environment with the unyielding vision that a thriving economy doesn’t have to steamroll its most vulnerable participants and ruin the planet. He has publicly advocated for a major movement tying the economy to the environment for over 15 years. He positions climate change as an opportunity for America to lead the world in green technology, with all the jobs and economic growth that would entail.

“There are a lot more jobs in fighting climate change than there are in denying it,” he often says.

The son of a Seattle high school teacher and a Sears sales clerk, Inslee grew up going on group trips to clean up trash on Mt. Rainier. He got a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Washington and a law degree from Willamette University. Then he went to work as a prosecutor with the law firm Peters, Schmalz, Leadon & Fowler in rural Selah, Washington.

With tours as a state legislator, congressman, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton and, most recently, two terms as governor, he’s been in politics for over two decades. 

As a U.S. representative, he sponsored 2007 legislation that would have helped halt climate change. The New Apollo Energy Act would have capped emissions, provided seed money for green technology companies and weaned the country off foreign oil.

The United States went to the moon, he argued in an op-ed at the time, pointing out that the successful mobilization to stop acid rain cost less than expected and launched a new industry. The bill died in the House.

And economic justice has always been big component of Inslee’s plan to fight climate change. His Apollo Energy Act protected companies that produced aluminum and paper, despite their emissions, because they produced jobs. He also made sure that money raised by charging polluters helped low-income families pay their utility bills.

The clean energy plan Inslee released Friday prioritizes jobs and fair wages for workers – especially those who would transition out of high-emitting industries under his plan.

Inslee says his plan would include “promoting projects with businesses owned by women and people of color; apprenticeship utilization; prevailing wages determined through collective bargaining; and community workforce and project-labor agreement.”

The 2020 hopeful has the track record as governor to fairly claim a history of championing a path away from climate catastrophe. But his tenure has also been one of handing huge tax breaks to major corporations in the name of jobs.

In 2016, the World Trade Organization ruled that tax breaks Washington handed Boeing to keep 777X production in the state were illegal. The state promised $5.7 billion in “prohibited subsidies” to be paid between 2024 and 2040, according to the ruling.

Boeing is a major contributor to the pollution of Puget Sound, where threatened Chinook salmon and endangered Southern Resident killer whales struggle to survive. But in the wake of the 2016 ruling, Inslee doubled down on his decision.

“That was the right thing to do for our state’s economic future and it still is,” he said in a statement following the ruling.

Now that he’s running for president, his position has changed. In an interview with Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show,” Inslee said signing the 2013 bill that authorized Boeing’s tax breaks was like being robbed at gunpoint.

“If you’ve ever been mugged, you understand what it feels like,” Inslee said. “These corporations put a gun to your ribs and say you’re going to lose 20,000 jobs unless you get [them] a tax break.”

As a presidential candidate, Inslee accepts Super PAC money, though not from those associated with oil and gas companies. Of the $2.25 million he has so far raised, nearly half has come from donations of $1,000 or more, according to his campaign’s most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission.

It sometimes proves awkward for Inslee to marry a pro-big business approach with an environmental justice agenda.

As governor, he launched an initiative to fight poverty. A working group made of heads of state agencies and steered by a group of Washingtonians who have lived in poverty is preparing a 10-year plan to reduce poverty in the state, due to Inslee by December.

At the group’s March 27 meeting, Inslee listened to Washington resident Jennifer Bereskin describe what it had been like to grow up in and out of homelessness on the streets of Seattle, before leaving a domestic violence situation and struggling to make ends meet as a full time student and single mother.

Inslee then said he had an “editorial comment.”

“We’ve got to think about things that give me more ability to band together to tackle this low wage issue that 30, 40% of people have productivity increases but they’re not getting wage increases,” Inslee said. “It’s going to the top 1%. And we love the top 1%. They’ve led incredible new economic industrial revitalization. But the point is our wages are not keeping pace with the costs.”

Inslee hasn’t explained how he would unite a bitterly divided Congress to scrap oil-friendly policies that have become deeply enmeshed with the way national politics work. Still, after decades of defeat in his crusade to halt climate change, Inslee insists that he will be the one to lead the U.S. to a post-carbon spewing economy.

Why? He says American attitudes are changing. And, after decades in office, Inslee can hold his own with detractors.

During his testimony last year at a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives, Inslee was questioned by Washington Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a staunch supporter of keeping intact the four dams on the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia River – an action currently being studied by Inslee’s task force to prevent the extinction of Southern Resident killer whales.

Rodgers asked how Inslee had traveled to Washington, D.C. and whether he planned a specific offset for the carbon created by his travel.

“Yes,” Inslee replied without hesitation. “I intend to develop a clean energy system for the state of Washington and the United States, and that will be the most tremendous offset of anything I have ever done in my entire life because we will give my grandchildren an opportunity to have a life that is not severely degraded.”

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