Inslee Puts 2020 Mantra -- Green Energy -- Front and Center

Inslee Puts 2020 Mantra -- Green Energy -- Front and Center
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Inslee Puts 2020 Mantra -- Green Energy -- Front and Center
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
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The Earth is running out of time, and Jay Inslee was running a little late.

The Washington governor, who has made climate change the defining issue of his month-old presidential campaign, was scheduled to address a renewable energy forum in Washington, D.C., Wednesday morning, his first address in the nation’s capital since announcing his candidacy.

When he eventually arrived, Inslee made up for the delay with grand ideas, saying it is time for America to “fulfill our destiny,” time to build “a clean energy economy to lead the world.”

“We know that we are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it,” he told the audience. “We know that this is a moment of great peril, but we also know this is a moment of great promise.”

This rhetoric made Inslee something of a rock star among the industry leaders gathered for the Renewable Energy Forum hosted by the American Council of Renewable Energy. The entire Democratic field, to a candidate, has called for bold action on climate change. None has been as aggressive as Inslee.

The coastal environmentalist has been sounding the alarm since he came to Congress during the Clinton administration, warning that humanity’s “one chance at survival” is solving global warming. He wrote a book on the topic called “Apollo’s Fire.” He won the 2012 race for governor on that environmental argument. He earned a reputation, according to Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah, as “the O.G. of climate change.”

Inslee did not deviate from that message in the swank ballroom of the Conrad hotel. He promised, if elected, to invest heavily in renewable energy. He pledged to level that industry’s playing field against the competition.

“There are actually two sources of giant subsidies for … your competitors, which is the fossil-fuel industry,” Inslee said.

The first consists of inherent advantages for oil and gas companies in the tax code, he argued. The second is that “older incumbent industries have a subsidy because they get to use the atmosphere as a place to put the residue of pollution at zero cost in unlimited amounts.”

Inslee tried, and failed, to cut that subsidy in Washington state. He pushed for a carbon tax last March. It would have been the first tax on carbon dioxide pollution in the nation. It failed to get a vote in the state Senate.

The two-term governor has had more success with incremental reform. With his support, the state Senate passed legislation last month requiring Washington to become 100 percent carbon-free by 2045.

Inslee told industry leaders Wednesday that the private sector is critical to curbing emissions on a national scale, and he promised a hefty public investment.

“I do believe it is entirely a smart investment to help form capital early in nascent technologies that we know are necessary, and that means renewable energy,” he said, picking up on the theme of competition between green and carbon-based fuels. “We need to continue to help these new industries thrive.”

Like other Democratic candidates, Inslee has endorsed the goals, if not the specific policy proposals, of the Green New Deal sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He doubled down on that commitment, likening the proposal to President Kennedy’s decision to land a man on the moon within a decade.

“I know people have criticized it because it has timelines people disagree with or a lack of specificity,” he said after praising the Green New Deal for “starting the discussion.”

“People didn’t criticize Kennedy because he hadn’t designed the rotor rockets on the capsule,” Inslee continued. “This is the pushing of the button.”

The recent addition to his party’s growing field of presidential candidates has his own ambitious environmental agenda ready to go. His platform calls for accelerating the “transition to 100 percent clean energy and net-zero greenhouse gas pollution.” It would build up the renewable energy industry, end subsidies to fossil-fuel companies, and, in the process, Inslee promises to create “millions of good-paying jobs over the next 10 years, benefiting every community, through major new investments in American industries and manufacturing, modernized infrastructure, skilled labor and clean technology innovation.”

Inslee hopes this ambitious environmental moonshot can land him in the White House. It would be expensive to implement, likely on the same order of magnitude of the Green New Deal, which some experts predict could cost as much as $93 trillion.  

And if he wins the nomination and general election, the industry leaders who crowded into the Conrad ballroom Wednesday morning will waste little time lining up outside the Oval Office.

The forum was sponsored by, among others, Apex, a company that builds utility-scale solar power facilities; e.on, one of the world’s largest utility-service providers using renewable power sources; and Hannon Armstrong, an investor in green energy.

The event was not a campaign rally but that did not stop Inslee, who has made stops in the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa, from taking a couple shots at President Trump. He got a laugh when he told the audience he was running on environmental issues so the world will “know there is still intelligent life in the U.S.”

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