Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate policy lands on the heels of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s. | Ted S. Warren/AP Photo

Democratic Candidates Policies

How Gov. Jay Inslee would address climate change

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on May 3 unveiled his plan to fight climate change, which he says he’d begin to implement on the first day of his presidency.

On Thursday, Inslee expanded on that vision, releasing the "Evergreen Economy Plan," a set of 28 policy proposals outlining how his administration would attempt to meet its ambitious carbon-cutting goals.

What would the plan do?

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The Democrat's latest plan calls for a decade-long mobilization to put the U.S. economy on a path to "net-zero climate pollution" by 2045, meaning any U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at that time would be offset by reforestation or other techniques.

That builds on Inslee's earlier vision for 100% clean energy, including having the nation's electric utilities powered entirely by carbon-neutral power by 2030. That plan also calls for all new smaller vehicles and buses to reach zero emissions and for new commercial and residential buildings to produce no carbon emissions by 2030. It would also close the nation’s coal fleet by 2030, while proposing support for communities and workers affected by those closures.

How much would it cost?

$3 trillion in federal spending over a decade.

Inslee's plan calls for a $9 trillion investment over 10 years, including an average of $300 billion in annual federal spending that would leverage “approximately $600 billion more each year," according to the document.

That figure may rankle Republicans and some Democrats, who have voiced concern that decarbonizing the economy that quickly may be impractical and prohibitively expensive. Environmentalists, however, say the costs of inaction on climate outweigh the needed investments.

Who would it help?

The plan would generate millions of new jobs for people working in clean energy sectors and building more sustainable infrastructure, according to Inslee. To achieve that, Inslee envisions a new $90 billion "Green Bank" to fund clean infrastructure projects, a doubling of federal public transportation funding, and new investments in rural electrification and electric vehicle charging, among others.

It would benefit residents suffering greater public health impacts from pollution or severe weather exacerbated by climate change. Inslee's Evergreen plan calls for a new clean water Initiative to upgrade drinking and wastewater infrastructure, as well as billions in new funding for "climate-safe" infrastructure meant to withstand stronger storms.

Inslee says his plan would also specifically seek to ensure a “just transition” for communities currently reliant on fossil fuels. A federal report last fall, echoing years of previous science, warned that economies in every region of the country would face hundreds of billions of dollars in annual disruption by midcentury because of climate change.

What have other Democrats proposed?

Taken together, Inslee’s two climate proposals represent the most comprehensive plan on the subject unveiled by a 2020 presidential candidate to date.

Late last month, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke unveiled his vision for the government and private sector to spend $5 trillion over 10 years on clean energy infrastructure. That plan, however, did not detail how the U.S. would reach dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Many of the other candidates have coalesced around ambitious climate action along the lines of the Green New Deal advanced by activists and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Who opposes it?

The plan is likely to face strong opposition from Republicans, who have balked at the anticipated costs of similar proposals. Many have also resisted a national clean energy standard, arguing that putting a price on carbon could be more cost-effective and that such a standard doesn’t take into account the energy sources and geographies of different regions.

How would it work?

Inslee says he’d begin to implement his plan on the first day of his presidency using existing authority under the Clean Air Act, among other laws. But he also acknowledges that “other elements will require new legislation.” He’s hoping to export the model seen in multiple states, including his own, of legislation that sets goals for 100 percent clean energy use.

Emissions from the three sectors — transportation, electricity and buildings — covered by the plan account for about 70 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. Other priorities in the plan include speeding the deployment of renewable energy on federal lands and offshore waters, favoring electric and other low-carbon alternative fuels for vehicles with tax incentives, and creating a zero-emission national building standard by 2023.

Why now?

Scientists say world economies must decarbonize quickly over the next decade to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and the issue now ranks near the top of those concerning Democratic primary voters. And Inslee has staked his campaign around climate change, framing his candidacy around the issue and arguing that he turned Washington state into a model for the country on green energy.

The proposal also ensures that Inslee can stay at the forefront of the climate conversation in the primary, after the release of O’Rourke’s proposal to curb carbon emissions. O’Rourke, who generally polls ahead of Inslee, recently sent out a fundraising pitch to his supporters describing how he signed a pledge not to accept any fossil fuel money donations to his presidential campaign.

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