Jay Inslee on Climate Change: Where the Candidate Stands

How do the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls compare on their climate history and promises to solve the crisis? ICN is analyzing their records.

Jay Inslee. Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat running for president. Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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Update: On Aug. 21, Gov. Inslee announced he was withdrawing from the Democratic primary race for president.

“I am the only candidate saying, unequivocally, that I will make defeating climate change the number one priority of my administration.”
—Jay Inslee, June 2019

Been There

Since taking office in 2013, Gov. Jay Inslee has seen seven of the 10 largest wildfires on record in Washington, a state half covered with woodland. “Climate change is ravaging our forest,” Inslee said at the site of a fire that burned for three months in the Wenatchee National Forest in 2017. “The combination of beetle kill, drought and higher temperatures have made our fires, bombs, waiting to go off.”

Done That

Candidate profiles

When Inslee signed a law in May committing the nation’s 10th largest state economy to 100 percent clean energy by 2045, it was a testament to both his perseverance on climate and the power of the forces that lined up against him. For six years, Inslee pushed a vision of Washington as part of a West Coast vanguard in the fight to curb carbon emissions, but first he had to battle a Republican legislature, the state’s big oil refining industry, and even division among environmental activists. A slew of proposals either died in the state capitol or at the ballot box before Inslee could claim victory for what he called “the strongest clean energy policy in the nation.” He had to drop his goals for carbon pricing and a low-carbon fuel standard.

Candidate profiles

Getting Specific

  • The Green New Deal has “gotten people talking about climate change, it’s elevated the scope of people’s ambitions,” says Inslee. He argues he can put this “aspirational document” into action with dozens of proposals in policy platforms on issues including: a 100 percent clean energy plan, a program to create 8 million new jobs, a strategy for U.S. re-engagement in global climate leadership, a “Freedom from Fossil Fuels” plan and a “Community Climate Justice” initiative. Altogether, they would cost about $9 trillion, with some funding coming from a new “climate pollution fee” on the fossil fuel industry.
  • To achieve a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and net zero domestic climate pollution by 2045, Inslee foresees $300 billion in annual spending leveraging $600 billion in private sector investment over the next 10 years.
  • Inslee’s plan calls for zero emissions—basically, electric vehicles only—for all new passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks and buses by 2030, and would ensure those vehicles are made in the United States by union workers. He’d jump-start market demand for EVs with rapid electrification of government vehicles, and would encourage consumer turnover with a “Clean Cars for Clunkers” trade-in rebate program, a nod to the 2009 stimulus bill.
  • Inslee’s goal of “all clean, renewable and zero-emission energy in electricity generation by 2035” in theory leaves room for nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage, but neither are mentioned in his plans. In contrast, he talks about how federal lands can be a base for expansion of solar and wind energy, and he foresees federal action to expand and upgrade the grid and electricity storage to bolster renewables.
  • In his climate justice proposal, he says he would launch a new Office of Environmental Justice in the Justice Department to prosecute corporate polluters and would ensure that at least 40 percent of his proposed $3 trillion in federal spending on a “clean energy economy” would go to communities disproportionately affected by pollution, many of which are low-income.
  • After Inslee’s repeated failed efforts to enact a carbon tax in Washington state, he turned his focus to other climate measures that he described as “more attainable in the short-term.” But he revived the idea of a levy in his latest plan. “While putting a price on the cost of climate pollution does not represent a single silver bullet, it nonetheless remains an effective tool for both ensuring that polluters pay and for generating new revenue to address the harms caused by those emissions,” he said.
  • The fracking ban in Washington state that Inslee signed into law on May 8 was not a heavy political lift in a state with no known oil or natural gas reserves. But in a reversal, Inslee also announced his opposition to other gas infrastructure projects. Inslee once thought natural gas would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the way to a clean energy transition; now he opposes “locking in these multidecadal infrastructure projects.” He has rebuffed industry’s efforts to open Washington’s prized coastline as a gateway for fossil fuel exports to Asia.
  • Inslee said he would enact a “G.I. Bill” to aid fossil fuel workers who lose their jobs, and protect pensions and disability payments, and a “Re-Power Fund” would boost communities now reliant on fossil fuels.
  • Inslee was the second candidate to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, on Jan. 9. Among current presidential candidates, only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) signed earlier.

Our Take

While embracing his role as the first presidential candidate to center a campaign around climate change, Inslee seems determined to show he’s not a single-issue candidate. When his full platform is unveiled, it will encompass up to seven separate detailed policy papers. In approaching the clean energy transition as an economic issue, a labor issue, a foreign policy issue, and more, Inslee tries to avoid the label of one-trick pony while pestering the Democratic National Committee to hold a debate on climate change alone.

Read Jay Inslee’s climate platform.
Read more candidate profiles.