It is still too early to predict the Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 election. The field is oversaturated at present, comprising some very well-known names, some relatively familiar names, and some complete unknowns. There is still a lot of baseball between now and November 2020. Unless you are a truly addicted political junkie, devoting time to these early days might be a poor use of time. Current “debates” are more about trying to win voters than arguments.
The issue of climate change is making this particular election cycle a bit more interesting. Instead of muddling at its usual 5th or 6th place spot on the priority list, it has ascended to a place alongside traditional top tier issues like immigration, education, and health care. It is about time. Global temperatures continue to rise and set new records. Severe storms are more frequent with increased levels of damage and astronomical recovery price tags. Adding to the urgency are headline-grabbing initiatives such as the Green New Deal (GND), and recent reports from the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicating the 12-year window within which we must contain the Earth’s rising temperatures, and how we must adjust our use of the planet’s resources lest we exacerbate an already untenable situation.
Of the current candidates, two stand out with respect to climate change: Elizabeth Warren and Jay Inslee. The former is very well known and has, among many others, a plan for combating climate change. It hits all the notes in the mainstream discussion about the issue but is short on details.
Inslee, on the other hand, is less well known. He has steadily polled between zero and one percent since announcing his campaign, but his resumé would suggest he should be doing better. Inslee has the type of experience one would want an incoming Commander in Chief to have: He spent multiple consecutive terms in the House of Representatives and is currently in his second consecutive term as governor of Washington, a state almost as politically, economically, and geographically diverse as the United States itself.
Compared to Warren’s climate change plan, Inslee’s is far more comprehensive from both a domestic and international standpoint. The governor has crafted, in almost painful detail, the various initiatives and policy mechanisms he wants to implement as president to achieve long-term energy and climate goals. The plan is so exhaustive, the Inslee campaign had to release it piecemeal. In short, it is a policy wonk’s dream come true.
I am not going to analyze each plan in exhaustive detail. Inslee and his team have already done that. I plan to look at the broad strokes, main objectives and priorities, and some of the more unique policies the team plans to implement. However, I am including links to specific parts of Inslee’s various plans if you want to explore them further. I am also going to compare it, where possible, to the Green New Deal. Inslee’s plan is what the GND should be. So, what are they?
This is the first plan is the campaign released and it gets right to the point. This opening salvo comprises three main goals that provide the boundaries within which subsequent plans, objectives and policies will be enacted.
100% Clean Electricity by 2035: This objective calls for all electric utilities to be 100 percent carbon neutral by 2030, and that all new generation be clean, renewable, or zero emission by 2035. That final criteria is code for “nuclear power is acceptable.” The plan also calls for tax incentives, efficiency investments paid through on-bill financing, and retirement of the entire US coal fleet by 2030. It also prioritizes renewable energy generation on public lands and offshore wind expansion, and aims to strengthen the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services and the Department of Energy’s (DoE) Loan Programs Office as instruments for the proliferation of renewable energy projects.
100% Clean New Vehicles by 2030: Given the transportation sector accounts for roughly 29 percent of America’s emissions profile, this an important topic. The plan focuses on light duty passenger vehicles, and medium duty trucks and buses. It calls for more aggressive clean fuel standards (as opposed to fuel efficiency standards), requires all government fleets to be electric vehicles, and sets a zero emissions standard for all new cars beyond 2030.
100% clean new buildings by 2030: Rounding out this plan is a focus on new buildings. The governor wants net zero carbon building standards by 2023 they can begin to be worked in the new building codes. This part of the plan also focuses on fossil fuel generation for energy consumption in buildings that power HVAC systems, water systems, etc. The plan proposes fiscal incentives for energy efficiency, retrofits with federal funding, and ways to connect energy and climate pollution standards to federal fiscal support for new construction.
In many ways this plan is similar to objectives in the GND and can be just as vague and coded. However, Governor Inslee drills down to propose significant targets, measures, and workable policy mechanisms with which he is familiar from his time as governor. This overarching plan is bold but achievable, mostly realistic, and makes no bones about the direct actions needed in the next decade to implement the kind of infrastructure we need in the sectors responsible for more than half of America’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions profile.
The demise of coal-fired power plants is well underway. Completely phasing them out is very possible thanks to the abundance and affordability of natural gas. Whereas the GND simply targets a ten year horizon for the complete removal of GHG-emitting electricity generation, Inslee has a slightly more nuanced approached that might be more palatable to the industry.
In addition to resistance from the coal lobby, I believe this plan will meet outsized resistance in the automotive sector. Without directly saying it, the plan calls for phasing out of internal combustion engines (ICE). Other countries have already set such targets. However, were Inslee to phrase it that way, he would risk scaring coveted Midwest voters who work in the automotive industry. In addition, this is an almost insurmountable task regarding replacement of every vehicle on the road plus the charging infrastructure necessary to accomplish such a goal.
The GND says little regarding transportation. It mentions the need for green, reliable, and affordable public transportation but little else. That works well in large urban areas but is of little use to the majority of the country that depends on automobiles in the much larger rural areas of the country.
This second plan is much more in-depth than the previous and significantly resembles the GND in terms of breadth and ambition While it focuses on domestic priorities, it also introduces measures to advance America’s role in helping face climate change challenges abroad. It comprises five strategies supported by 28 policies. (Like I said, this plan is a wonk’s dream come true.)
Igniting the American Clean Energy Economy: One of the main aspects of this objective is a green bank for financing climate friendly infrastructure. It is not entirely unlike the National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank floated between 2007 and 2010. It also plans to build on the success of the Clean Energy Fund started in Washington, and focuses on next generation rural electrification, which means upgrading existing electricity transmission and distribution systems to be carbon neutral.
Building Sustainable and Climate Smart Infrastructure: Inslee often refers to the D+ grade given to America’s infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). In response, Inslee focuses a great deal on upgrading transportation, water, and energy generation infrastructure. However, like the GND, he does not square the circle regarding the need for emission-heavy work to construct climate-friendly infrastructure. This part of the plan also focuses on more efficient affordable housing and public school buildings. Through new investments and significant retrofits, the governor believes these upgrades will significantly reduce the nation’s carbon footprint and help us achieve long-term carbon goals.
Clean manufacturing: Governor Inslee wants America to lead the world in the manufacture of clean energy technology, to include ZEVs and automotive battery production and recycling. He believes America can increase manufacturing while reducing carbon emissions through investment in more efficient hardware and technology. Governor Inslee also proposes a Quadrennial Infrastructure Review (QIR), not entirely unlike the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) (now the National Defense Strategy) and the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) then-President Obama instituted at DoE. The QIR will identify opportunities to “green” infrastructure and identify threats from increasing storm damage. The Evergreen Economy plan begins looking beyond America’s shores by working with the World Bank Group, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and the Export-Import Bank (EX-IM) to support exporting American-made clean energy technology to the remaining 95 percent of the global market.
Investing in Innovation & Scientific Research: Citing the success of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Office, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) office, both housed at DOE, Governor Inslee intends to focus heavily on needed research and development (R&D), a topic the GND barely mentions. He plans to revitalize these important offices, and the nation’s network of national laboratories, to continue their groundbreaking work regarding energy and climate solutions. The Evergreen Economy plan will devote significant R&D funding to the agriculture and transportation sectors. Inslee believes advancements in distributed electricity generation, and the application of technology in soil and land-use can help the agriculture sector become more productive while reducing harmful environmental impacts. While in the transportation sector, the governor intends to increase R&D around battery production recycling, and the expanded use of biofuels. Lastly, this objective includes heightened focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Given the role clean technologies will play in America’s future economy, the governor understands the very real need to prepare workers with the types of skills needed to be competitive in the economy of tomorrow.
Ensuring Good Jobs with Family Supporting Wages & Benefits: The last objective of this plan focuses on the front line workers of a future green economy. The plan calls for a solution similar to the G.I. Bill, wherein people displaced by the transition to a clean energy economy can access funds for education and training to participate in a revitalized economy. It also focuses on restoring lost benefits to people impacted by the current energy market sea change, strengthening the National Labor Relations Act, and works to strengthen collective bargaining policies that have been whittled away by right to work legislation. The plan emphasizes skills training and apprenticeships and proposes defined wages for working families: $25 per hour for skilled workers in clean energy jobs, and a federal minimum wage hike to $15 per hour by 2024.
Like the GND, the Evergreen Economy plan has as its leading edge clean energy manufacturing, resilient and climate friendly infrastructure upgrades, and fossil fuel elimination. However, this plan goes further listing existing offices and resources a new president can leverage immediately to begin working toward stated goals.
In addition, the Evergreen Economy plan and the GND connect climate change to very important socioeconomic factors like health care, immigration, and the social safety net. Like many of his fellow candidates Inslee hopes to address the very real specter of income inequality preventing frontline communities (read: poor communities) from being able to cope with this mounting threat. He has individual plans for issues like health care, immigration and education, and even developed a single plan centered on climate justice. By contrast, the GND bundles all of these together as more of a centrally-planned economic policy.
Though elaborate, the Evergreen Economy plan is less muddled than the GND, which has goals with sub-goals with sub-objectives supported by more goals. Further, this part of Inslee’s plan provides some insight regarding the levels of public investment necessary to achieve its objectives. The Evergreen Economy will cost $300 billion per year in government expenditure to be leveraged with another $600 billion from unspecified sources, presumably private investment. The total over ten years would be nearly $9 trillion, but that astronomical figure is expected to simultaneously usher in a 21st century infrastructure that is more climate friendly, will create good paying long-term jobs, and improve the country’s economic Outlook.
This third plan focuses on meeting a climate change agenda through more foreign policy-oriented tools. Similar to the Evergreen Economy plan, this comprises five strategies and almost 30 policies to achieve them. Not only does Inslee’s plan intend to increase American influence abroad but intends to do it with more environmentally friendly measures.
American Leadership on Global Climate Action: Every Democratic candidate has pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement, but Inslee is going further. He tries to build on his status as of the co-founders of the US Climate Alliance, organized in the wake of Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the international climate accord. In addition to rejoining the Paris Accord, Governor Inslee wants to reconstitute the Major Economies Forum, a group organized through the US Department of State under President Obama to address global climate change issues. Inslee’s leadership plan also includes ending American exports of fossil fuels. It even takes a swipe at the DOE’s recent “Freedom Gas” re-branding debacle, whereby the US tried to put a heroic spin on its obvious efforts to counter Russian influence in Europe via natural gas exports. (How “free” can one be when swapping reliance on one country for reliance on another?)
Further, Inslee intends to ratify the Kigali amendment to the Montréal Protocol regarding hydro-fluorocarbons (HFC), and accelerate action against methane and black carbon, which are two of the most harmful of atmospheric emissions. Methane has been regulated even more poorly under the current administration than it has been in the past, and black carbon is especially prevalent in developing countries with rural populations dependent on wood for cooking. A President Inslee would try to address these through regulations at home and diplomatic efforts abroad.
This global initiative includes United States ratification and implementation of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The governor recognizes civil aviation as one of the fastest growing GHG emitters on the planet. Globalization has not only lifted millions out of poverty, it has given them disposable income with which to travel. Inslee hopes American support for CORSIA can pressure other countries to join and implement stricter aviation emissions standards. Other diplomatic efforts would include pressuring countries to reduce deforestation and improve land use with respect to carbon emissions. The more resources like the Amazon are eliminated to create more crop space, the less of a carbon sink for absorbing emissions from the atmosphere.
Promoting Resilience, Justice and Stability in the Face of Climate Disruption: Climate impacts around the world are at the root of many migration crises. Many rural populations abroad face displacement and other hardships as climate change destroys the land upon which they rely. Inslee intends to use overseas assistance via Department of State (DoS) and USAID to support local development and economic strengthening efforts in the face of rising climate emergencies. In addition, he proposes a strong focus on the United States’ role at the United Nations. As the global body is home to the IPCC, and given America’s role on the Security Council, Inslee intends to influence other governments regarding bold climate action.
This objective also connects climate change and American national security, particularly as it relates to the DoD and its readiness at home and abroad. Multiple threat and readiness analysis from the DoD has highlighted the effects climate change is having, and will continue to have, on the military’s ability to accomplish its missions and be of assistance during domestic and foreign catastrophes. Despite the current administration’s attempt to pretend these threats and analysis do not exist, a President Inslee would put them at the center of military readiness discussions.
Setting Strong Climate and Labor Standards in International Trade: Inslee intends to put climate change at the center of future trade agreements. He also hopes to increase the sustainability of global value chains through mechanisms such as a climate adjustment, which would apply to imports that are not produced with the same level of environmental standards as American goods. Included in this trade strategy are mechanisms to promote fair labor standards and human rights clauses to protect workers on all sides of a trade deal.
Driving Investment to Build a Sustainable Global Economy: The United States originally committed $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund in 2009. By the time the Trump administration took office the United States had donated $1 billion only to see the rest canceled. Governor Inslee intends to re-commit funds not yet provided and to double America’s contribution to the fund. He intends to connect that commitment with efforts to further global green development and export of clean energy technology from the United States.
Taking on Fossil Fuels and Creating Climate Accountability: The final objective addresses fossil fuel subsidies, particularly abroad. Inslee plans to pressure multilateral development banks (MDB) to no longer support fossil fuel projects in developing countries, and to increase US support of MDBs as they work to promote green growth abroad. This would be a direct counter to China’s current Belt and Road Initiative, which provides financing for infrastructure projects but lacks any environmental standards or requirements for climate compatibility. The governor also plans to confront petrostate actors and countries heavily involved in rapid deforestation.
Because the president can set foreign policy goals and initiatives not requiring Congressional approval (except for treaties which require two-thirds approval by the Senate), this is an area I think Inslee, should he be elected president, would amass various quick wins. The president is free to pursue policy goals through entities like DoS, USAID, and a number of other agencies that fall under the Executive Branch and that offer assistance abroad (e.g.: the Commerce Department, the Department of Agriculture, etc.) Combined with an active presence at the UN, Inslee could conceivably build momentum and encourage other countries to follow. He would further his argument and build support at home by linking his initiatives to the export of American-manufactured goods in the global market. Beyond that, he may face resistance from Capitol Hill with some of the more domestic-oriented pieces of his plans.
This facet of Inslee’s plan is something the GND severely ignores. Because of its global reach and disregard for national boundaries, climate change must be simultaneously addressed at the domestic and international level.
The final piece of Inslee’s plan, at least as of this writing, takes a very aggressive stance against the corporate side of the fossil fuel industry and its connection to climate change. Again, it contains five objectives and an arsenal of policy ideas to accomplish them.
Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies: Copious research exists regarding the level of tax write-offs and subsidies the fossil fuel industry receives in the United States. Inslee intends to end all of them. This would reveal more of a true cost of energy production versus renewable sources.
Banning New Federal Leasing and Phasing-Out Fossil Fuel Production: Oil and gas producers use a fair amount of federally held land for exploration and extraction. Lease terms are favorable and can provide revenue to the government. President Obama canceled existing leases for companies just sitting on concessions waiting for the global cost of oil to increase. Inslee plans to go a step further by banning new leases for fossil fuel exploration and ending fossil fuel production on government lands.
Holding Polluters Accountable: Governor Inslee plans to impose a pollution fine on fossil fuel producers by taxing them as far upstream as possible. This is not entirely different from the Climate Leadership Council’s plan to tax upstream development and pass on revenues to consumers in the form of a tax rebate or dividend. The latter is a terribly unworkable plan and Inslee’s plan shares some of the same negative downsides for consumers.
Rejecting New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure: New infrastructure projects will be required to report lifecycle pollution cost analysis as part of meeting criteria of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ). This will place a very high bar on infrastructure development but will help ensure future infrastructure is more climate friendly. The most aggressive part of this objective will be ending fossil fuel exports through reinstatement of the crude oil export ban and halting future natural gas shipments.
Improving Corporate Climate Transparency: Inslee plans to utilize the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require corporations to disclose climate change risk analysis and recognize climate risks inherent in the financial sector. Further, he wants to ensure consumers are shielded from financial sector attempts to shift that risk to them in times of climate-related catastrophe. Lastly, the plan aims to enforce requirements that corporate boards include members with climate change expertise.
I believe this plan will receive the fiercest resistance of all. Repealing subsidies, especially ones in place for decades, is nearly impossible. I also believe a President Inslee would have almost no support ending exports given the revenue it generates for the United States and the detrimental impact such a move would have on state and local economies. Further, exporting fossil fuels is one of the strongest geopolitical cards the United States has to counter China, Russia, and other actors attempting to stymie US foreign policy goals related to security, human rights, and a functioning international order.
This is by far the most detailed and aggressive climate change policy to come along since the Waxman-Markey bill of the early 2000’s. In fact, Governor Inslee’s plan reminds me of something I learned in an Energy and Environment class in graduate school: Policy makers must follow the 3Ps - what is the problem, what is the priority, and what is the policy to be implemented? Inslee and his team have clearly identified the problem, have specified key priorities, and in more than one case have identified almost 30 policies for achieving them. Unfortunately, the presidency is not a dictatorship. In many aspects, even the international ones, a president trying to implement this plan would have to work tirelessly to gain support on Capitol Hill to advance legislation this ambitious.
If Inslee is not president come January 2021, and his consistent polling at 1 percent suggests he will not be, his plan should at least be adopted by anyone able to unseat Trump. Given the governor’s credibility on this topic, appointing him Secretary of Energy could go a long way toward advancing his vision. Due to the international focus of parts of his plan and his time governing a state with various international relationships, Inslee might be a good choice to lead the United States Mission to the United Nations. It would be a great way to lead American climate change policy and foster collaboration with the global community.
Inslee’s plan for addressing the biggest crisis of our times is as impressive as it is necessary. It is balanced, detailed, aggressive, and largely realistic for addressing the greatest challenge of our time. The overly ambitious parts are just at the edge of the possible to be attainable. And it covers about 90 percent of how it would all get done. Indeed, if Inslee does not survive long into this election season, his plan should make it all the way to the Oval Office and beyond.