Opinion: Jay Inslee on persuading Americans to save ourselves from climate change
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination sat down with members of the Los Angeles Times editorial board Monday to discuss his top issue — climate change — and the presidential race. The following is a transcript, lightly edited for clarity.
Nick Goldberg, editorial pages editor: Welcome. We do these on the record. These are the early days of ourendorsement process. We won’t make a final endorsement until shortly before the California primary, so we have a while.
But, welcome. I want to give you the opportunity to give a short opening statement if you want to, and then we have plenty of questions.
Jay Inslee: I think I’m duty-bound to make an opening statement, so I will. So this is stream of consciousness: Fifty years ago Saturday, I watched an 8x10 black-and-white TV during my night job — I had two jobs that summer, before I went to Stanford, where I went broke properly — and I watched the moon landing. And then 40 years later I wrote a book called “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy.” And the book was basically intended to be a vision statement on how to build a clean energy economy and defeat the climate crisis. This was in 2008. And then in 2019, we are now experiencing the sting of climate change, and I do believe we are the last generation that can do something about it.
And I find myself running for president basically on the proposition we have to make defeating the climate crisis the top priority in the United States. I fundamentally believe that, because recognizing the political capital necessary and the task to change every single one of these vehicles [points to cars driving by on the freeway outside the window] to non-oil- and diesel-powered vehicles within the next 10 years, at least in our new sales, is a challenge for the United States and can only occur with presidential leadership. So I’m running as the first candidate to ever run with that commitment for president of the United States.
I think the most eloquent thing I’ve heard on the subject came from my wife a couple days ago — we were exulting on the Apollo project — and she said “you know, you ought to just tell people ‘we still have the right stuff.’” And Trudi is brilliant, and has been for 50 years, and she’s really right in that regard, too. And I do believe this is an opportunity to demonstrate that and call people to the same type of spirit that animated us so many years ago.
Now, when I wrote this book, I didn’t understand the urgency that now exists because the science has changed so dramatically in the last five or six years in terms of how fast we have to go. Nor did I understand how fast our technological transformation was going to take place; solar power has now dropped 80%, since I wrote that book, as far as [price] per watt. So both on the urgency and the optimism side, things have become more dynamic since I wrote that book.
So I just include in my portfolio the ability to get things done, including this one: as helping build the best economy in the United States, with the best paid family leave, the highest minimum wage, the best gender pay equity, the highest teacher pay increase, the first net neutrality rule, and the best 100% clean electricity bill. So, I’ve combined this message with a portfolio of experience that I think can be valuable, showing people I can actually get things done. And I think it’d be a really good thing to have a president west of Arkansas for the first time in American history. It’d be nice to know that we get a president from a place that actually represents the future, and I believe that’s where we are on the West Coast. Further I sayeth not.
Goldberg: Even if we ask questions?
Inslee: No, no. Questions. I will happily answer softball questions.
Jon Healey, deputy editor of the editorial pages: Then maybe I better not go first. You are looking at not just a Democratic party; you’re looking at a country to lead. And — just judging by electric car sales, for example — folks aren’t taking this seriously at all. What makes you think that a president can turn this around? We saw a president happily over the last couple years leading people in the other direction.
Inslee: Well, it won’t shock you to know that I believe the presidency can be a very powerful instrument in American society, both for good and ill. I saw a president convince the country to go to war against a country that wasn’t a threat to the United States of America, and use the enormous power of his communication systems and his bully pulpit to drive us into a war with Iraq, which I fundamentally and vocally opposed; I was one of the first to oppose it.
On the contrary, you’ve seen the Apollo project, you’ve seen the creation of Medicare, you’ve seen many things that have flipped with presidential leadership — if the fundamentals are underlying in America. Now I believe there is an underlying current of America that is very rapidly moving to recognize the urgency of this. Because, as recently as two or three years ago, climate change was an abstraction to people. It was a chart on a graph. And I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I have some experience in this. I ran on this in 1992. And for 20 years, it’s been, “Look at this chart, it’s going up. The parts per million are going up. And when it gets to a certain level, bad things are going to happen.” There has been a qualitative shift in that, because what used to be s chart and a graph is now a reality of Paradise, Calif., burning down. And Hamburg, Iowa, a town founded in 1858 that has never been flooded before, ever, since 1858, now is under eight or nine feet of water. And Little Haiti, in Miami, the day we landed in Miami, the everglades are on fire — 42,000 acres of swamp on fire. So, this is a rapidly changing dynamic, in that regard.
But the second dynamic changing is the job-creating opportunity that Americans are now seeing first hand with their kids and their nephews and their nieces getting great jobs in emerging industries. So it’s Dave in Iowa, where, you know, Trump said “wind turbines cause cancer.” We know they cause jobs. And I ask Dave — I met this young man at the Des Moines area community college — why he’s in the wind turbine technician program. And he said, “Well duh, it’s the future.” And it’s obvious, isn’t it? So clean energy jobs today are growing twice as fast as the United States economy. That’s a pretty profound statistic, I think.
Scott Martelle, editorial writer: Well, what happens when the guys who get those jobs buy the brand new Ford F150s that are going to be on the road for 12 to 15 years to get to those jobs? Isn’t that the driving engine here, the consumer patterns?
Inslee: It is. And that’s why we have, fortunately, at least one candidate who has proposed a plan that is scientifically necessary, which is we need to stop selling internal combustion vehicles, other than ones that run on biofuels, ten years from now. And that’s what I proposed, and we have the regulatory authority to do that. If you do that within the next 20 years, we’re going to transition our transportation system to a decarbonized system. That is technologically possible. It is economically and industrially possible. And we know we can do this because we’ve done it before. We’ve transitioned our auto industry once before. In 1940, we made 70 Jeeps. Seven zero. In 1940. We made 645,000 in the next four years.
Martelle: That was just factory line retooling. It was the same technology.
Inslee: Right, well listen, if the electric car had not been invented yet, this would be a more troublesome conversation. There 40 new vehicles. Every single major manufacturer is now making an electric car or has it on the drawing boards. And the battery technology has continued to increase, as you know is absolutely pivotal to this. I’m driving a Bolt now with a range of 230 miles I think or something. So this technology exists today, it’s simply a matter of changing the work orders for the line. This is a matter of will at this point. Not technology. And that’s a really important concept to grasp. We had the ability to build jeeps in 1939. Just as we did in 1945. We just had to make the decision to do it. So the point I would make is that the salvation of this is in our control.
And this is a pretty important point. David Wallace Wells — he wrote “The Uninhabitable Earth,” which is a pretty amazing walk through the apocalypse. Amazing book. Anyway, I was on a forum with him, and they ask him, “How do you get through the day? Aren’t you clinically depressed throughout the day?” And he said no. He understands this is an optimistic message, because “I didn’t write about an asteroid headed to Earth we can’t control. I wrote about something that’s in our control. That’s in our destiny. We are in control of this situation.” This is a question of will and leadership, not just technology. And I think that’s what we need.
Goldberg: Well it’s more than just leadership. I mean you would have to get a lot of things done in Washington, in a Washington that doesn’t do things, with — unless there’s a big change — a U.S. Senate that doesn’t really agree with you about these issues, with a powerful interest fighting against it. Can you talk about some of the specifics of your program and how you would accomplish them? Are these things that could be done single-handedly by a President? Do they require buy-in by Congress?
Inslee: So probably over half of my plan could be achieved by executive order, under existing clean air and clean water laws, including the clean air standards for cars, eliminating the use of coal plants 10 years from now, the elimination of leasing on our public lands, the use of our procurement power, which is enormous, to procure goods and services to create scales of economy throughout the procurement power of the United States. A usage of our R&D funds that have already been to some degree appropriated. Usage of the planning process of the United States around transportation. The federal government has a lot of leverage over transportation planning, over how we plan to go to a decarbonized transportation system. So there’s a whole host of things one can do from executive order.
Now, statutory changes are better, because they last past that president.
Inslee: So, they’re preferable, but you can do enormous things through executive power.
On the congressional level, though, you’ve pointed out a very important point. Which is, unless we eliminate the filibuster, we’re toast. The reason is as long as [Sen.] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] has the filibuster, there is very little chance of major climate change legislation passing though the Senate, even if Democrats take back the Senate. That is one of — that’s not the exclusive reason — but one of the reasons I am adamantly opposed to the filibuster, and have been for years. Because Mitch McConnell calls himself the Grim Reaper and relishes that title, and he has a big blade, it’s called the filibuster.
Now I think the filibuster is anti-democratic in general. I’ve never understood why someone who wants progress on climate change gets one vote, and the antediluvinal person who’s in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry gets one-and-a-half votes. And that’s how it works. If you do the math, that’s how the filibuster works. That’s crazy. How do you call that democracy? So I don’t believe anyone can be serious about defeating climate change and embrace the filibuster. That’s just the reality right now. And I’ve been a little bit surprised by the lack of other senators joining me, except senators like that [aspect of the Senate].
It’s kind of the last barony in American history, in American democracy. They don’t like to give that power up individually. But if we’re going to move, and have a chance of survival, we’re going to need to do that. So far there’s only one other senator running for this office who’s agreed with me on this: Senator [Elizabeth] Warren [D-Mass.]. So we need to accomplish that, and we need to win a couple more seats. If we do that, we might need to be able to get a couple Republicans to join us in some of this. They’re feeling the heat back home. They understand it’s no longer socially acceptable to go to a cocktail party and deny climate change. They’re talking to business people who are showing to them the investment opportunities of this. And that remains within the realm of the possible.
Mariel Garza, editorial writer: So there are some within the party who think that kind of message — that we have to completely upend our economy to deal with climate change — there’s some belief that Americans are just not going to buy it in the presidential election, and if the candidate on the Democratic side has an extreme platform, it’s going to ensure Donald Trump re-elected. What do you think about that?
Inslee: I think they are totally wrong, and humans are wrong on occasion.
Inslee: Why? Because we’re always fighting the last war, A. B: because we’re not that farsighted, on occasion. And C: We’re kind of squeamish about actually getting out in front.
Garza: But why do you think it’s wrong? Why do you think voters will respond to your message?
Inslee: One reason is the 2018 election cycle. I was chair of the Democratic Governors Association. We picked up seven seats, and every one of those candidates campaigned in part on clean energy jobs, including in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan and Kansas, even. Right down the heartland. Places we would like to win in this presidential cycle. We picked up 40 seats in the U.S. Congress, and I picked up 10 seats in my legislature. People are starting to get this.
And, you know, I think politicians are enormously capable of missing where public sentiment is. They missed it on the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Only two Republican incumbents got beat in 1998. And I was one of those who beat them. We beat em ‘cause I ran against the impeachment of Bill Clinton. I think they’re wrong on the Iraq War. I think they’re wrong on Glass-Steagall. I mean, sometimes the masses are wrong.
Now, why we are capable of doing this is because you can go into Michigan and argue that this is a great job creating opportunity for UAW members in Michigan. You can go into Iowa, as I have, and talk to the people who now have over 30% of the electricity in Iowa created by wind technology.
The interesting thing about this message is, it’s really good in smaller, rural communities. And as you know, Democrats have hemorrhaged in small rural communities. And we need to improve our performance in small rural communities, even if we don’t win them. We need to get 46 [percent] instead of 39. And, you’re finding a lot of this job growth is in small communities. It’s not in Seattle; in my state, it’s in Moses Lake, Washington, where we have the largest carbon fiber manufacturer that goes in electric cars. It’s in Grays Harbor, where we have a biofuel producer.... It’s feedstock. It’s in Bellingham, where I was dedicating the expansion of the largest photo-voltaic manufacturer in the United States the other day. So these are jobs that are distributed to the places we need to win. We just need to articulate that message.
Goldberg: In most polls, Americans don’t put climate changes as their top concern, right? They put jobs, they put health, etc. I’m sure you, I don’t know, I suspect you object to being called a single issue candidate, but you’re certainly running your campaign with a heavy, heavy focus on one issue. How can you win Americans to your side if you’re not talking about the other issues that are of great concern and that are extraordinarily important to what a president does, from issues of war and peace, to issues of poverty and schools? What’s the strategy?
Inslee: Two strategies. First off, to keep people’s attention or to get attention on the climate change message. And that’s goal No. 1. And goal No. 2 is to show the success of a West Coast strategy with a West Coast leader who has led “a West Coast progressive value system” that has created the best economy in the United States. Now that is not hyperbole, it’s just reality. And I think my message of Washington state’s message, the Washington way, is the perfect antidote to Donald Trump’s trickle-down economics. For this reason: Donald Trump’s basic view is if you just shower the 1% with goodies, that’ll rain down like snowflakes on everyone else. And his view is if you take care of working families and if you believe in diversity and tolerance, it’ll crater your economy. Well my state is exhibit A of why he is wrong.
So what have we done in my state? We’ve created the highest minimum wage, best paid family leave, the best gender pay equity, the first net neutrality [law], the highest teacher pay increase, one of the largest expansion of financial aid for college students that the New York Times, I’m sorry to mention the New York Times, called a “game changer,” our financial aid package. Which we financed with a tax on banks and large tech companies.
So, you know, I was the first Governor to stand up against the Muslim ban. We’ve embraced refugees. Trump tried to threaten me, saying if I didn’t end my sanctuary state program he’d threaten to send refugees. My response was “send ‘em.” We want them in our community. So, when you do these things you create a great economy. That is a great way to confront Donald Trump. So this is not, climate change is not the only thing I’m talking about in the race. And I’ve got an example. Virtually every single thing, almost without exception, the other aspirants have proposed, I’ve actually done. And, I think over time, experience can count for something.
That’s one answer. The second answer is, look, if national security is your top priority, this has been identified as one of the greatest national security threats by the Pentagon and the intelligence forces. Big time. Trump refuses to listen to them, it’s driving them crazy. I’ve talked to the briefers at our intelligence agencies and they’ve told him, look, we’re going to have mass migrations because of this; it’s going to create political instability and eventual violence. One way or another we’re going to be involved in it.
So if national security is your principal concern, this is a national security issue. If health is a principal concern. And if you’re concerned about asthma in your kids, which is now in epidemic proportions, precipitated in large part because of this. You meet couples in Lyme disease [forums] whose daughter missed three years in college because she got Lyme disease because ticks are spreading north. And we have this, it may be asking too much, but we’d like our kids to be able to breath over the summer.
So Seattle, Washington, is thinking about opening air shelters in the summer, where kids can go in like a gymnasium to get some clean air for an hour or two, because the forest fires are so terrible. Seattle, Washington, had the worst air quality in the entire world one day last summer because the forest fires. I was in Pateros, Washington, where a bunch of the town burned down, three or four days ago. We looked at a map, and I don’t know what the statistic was, but it looked to me about a third of north-central Washington had burned down in the last several years. These forest fires are just unbelievable.
This is a health issue. It’s a justice issue. And I’ve embedded a really strong environmental justice component in my plan. And I’m proud of that because it’s dedicated to taking care of the frontline communities, who are frequently communities of color, who have been the first victims of climate change. The kids who are breathing this are the kids living next to freeways and the toxic sites. Black Americans breathe 50% more particulate matter than the average white American over their lifetime. This is an environmental justice issue.
It’s a union issue. And I believe strongly in trying to rehabilitate the ability of people to be protected by a union, and I’ve built that into my plan. And the plan’s been called the gold standard; it’s been called a master’s thesis on energy. It’s got top rated reviews from Data for Progress, and we got the [inaudible] award. It’s a treatise on what we need to do on clean energy. I’m proud of the work, and I think it’s a governing document and not just a bumper sticker.
Healey: Does the Green New Deal being out there help you? Hurt you?
Inslee: Well I think it helps a lot. The cause. Not necessarily me, but the cause. And it is a cause. Because it has caught people’s imagination, it is focused attention on the general issue. It has brought new communities into the conversation— communities of color, indigenous communities— that have now been engaged in the dialogue. Now, everyone, including Representative Ocasio-Cortez, has called my plan the gold standard of clean energy, realizes that we all need to have policies to actually effectuate what we need to do. And I’ve added my 120, 140 pages of policy to that end. And they are robust, comprehensive, and actually effective. And I do want to make this point: Everyone on the Democratic side says climate change is something we have to deal with. Everyone—at least, some— some of the candidates have proposed something that looks like a plan. Only one candidate has proposed measures that actually give us confidence that we will meet the scientifically necessary timelines to reduce our CO2 emissions. And I think that’s an important statement to make. And I hope other candidates will become more ambitious because their middle-ground approach, there’s no middle ground to survival. There’s no middle-ground to World War II. And there’s not middle-ground to this issue. So I’m proud of the work we’ve done.
Martelle: Two questions. One spinning off that, it’s a short one. I haven’t read your 120, 140 page thing in-depth—
Inslee: I’m disappointed.
Goldberg: And shocked.
Martelle: But what do you think of reviving something along the lines of Obama’s Cash for Clunkers program to get some of these older, heavily-emitting cars off the streets?
Inslee: I think it makes sense. It’s one of the tools… you know, I’m really embarrassed now to see if it’s actually technically in my plan. I should know that answer…
Martelle: You haven’t read it either!
Inslee: No, I have read it actually! I just can’t recall right now. Listen, these things, I call these tertiary things. Cash for Clunkers, these kinds of ancillary things can be useful. The point I want to make though is that this challenge and the time frame is so short that , I believe, you have to have strong regulatory approaches or the job just will not get done. For instance if you simply have, just simply an incentive program for electric cars, like we have in the state of Washington, and we did a good job, we have a new incentive program for electric cars. We have 50,000 electric cars now on the road in Washington. We’re roughly equivalent to California. By the way, I am a huge fan of your [former] governor. But I have to tell you, we almost got into it in Paris. We were in a climate change forum and I said something like “I’m kind of proud we now have the highest usage of electric cars in the nation by state.” And Gov. [Jerry] Brown said “What? What? That’s bologna! You do not have the highest electric… you are No. 2!” I thought he wanted to fight right in Paris. Anyway, we trade number one and two back and forth. But those kinds of things are not going to move the needle fast enough. You need a much more robust plan.
Martelle: The second question: You mentioned migration. And we’ve already seen climate change as one of the factors pushing people from Central America. What would you do broadly about dealing with the Central American migration flow?
Inslee: One, I would try to reduce the incentive for people to leave their homes, and that would include some of the obvious things of trying to do economic development in that region, which Trump has canceled. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. If we want people to survive in their homes, it would help to have a meaningful economy. So I would do the things that would increase our assistance to help those economies thrive. No. 2: I would try to deal with the climate crisis, ‘cause these are — many of these folks are climate refugees today.
Martelle: In the Guatemalan highlands, especially.
Inslee: In the Guatemalan highlands they literally are starving to death. They can’t grow a crop. This is a story across the world; this is not unique to Guatemala.
Healey: Right, but you can’t make it rain. They’ve had a drought there for more than a year.
Inslee: Correct. And droughts are going to become much more frequent over time. So, what percentage are climate refugees? I don’t know. But there’s some percentage that are climate refugees, and it’ll get worse over time.
No. 3: I will develop an asylum system that is not based on inhumanity and terrorism of young children. And that’s pretty much what Donald Trump’s strategy has been based on. This is an intentional infliction of distress he has tried to create. And I think we should follow the law and have a humane system on the border. That means to have an asylum system that is much more rapid in the decision. I don’t believe that the majority of these people have to be packed in detention centers. We found a 99% compliance rate with allowing people to be on their own recognizance pending their hearing. I think that is tenable thing to do. It was 99% compliance during the Obama administration on their program.
I would certainly do comprehensive immigration reform, that goes without saying. And I would apply what we are doing for Dreamers [in Washington state], which is just… I mean my blood just gets boiling to think putting these Dreamers on the chopping block and using them as a tool right now. It makes me so angry. These kids — I shouldn’t say kids — you know, they’re in our colleges, and I was one of the first to get them in-state tuition and financial aid and they’re just so inspiring, and the fact they’re being victimized it drives me nuts. So that’s what I would do.
Goldberg: When you talk about comprehensive immigration reform, what would that include at the border, ultimately? I mean, once we are treating people humanely, would you also tighten up the border? Would there be more security? Do we have the right to keep people out?
Inslee: Yes. I think we should have a secure border that is humane in its treatment of people at the border. That’s the bottom line. I think that Americans have an expectation that we have borders. And I believe that. But I also believe we ought to increase the amount of refugees the United States admits by several factors. And I believe that’s a fundamental aspect of the American experience, to be a place of refuge. That’s why I was the first Governor, I wrote an op-ed in another unnamed newspaper, years ago, even before Trump, saying we should accept Syrian refugees in the Syrian conflict. That’s why I was the first to stand up against the Muslim ban. And now I propose an increase in the number of refugees. What was it? 120 [percent]? 140? I can’t remember the number I had chosen was….
Garza: Have you given any thought as to whether climate refugees should be included in that number, or whether they should be admitted at all?
Inslee: I believe that they should, for that purpose is a legitimate reason to admit refugees. So, yes. The answer is yes. And it’s going to increase, dramatically. There are tens of millions of folks. Now, are we going to admit tens of millions of folks? No. But we should go back at a minimum, an absolute minimum, of a historic level of accepting refugees. And I have found this both answers the compassion of the United States of America, but also to our own well-being. Cause these folks have been some of the best citizens that we’ve had. Our family’s physical therapist is a refugee in Vietnam. And I was glad a Republican governor, Dan Evans, admitted Vietnamese refugees at the time, ‘cause now they are some of our best business people and teachers and physical therapists. So this is a beneficial thing for the United States of America, in my view.
Healey: What would you do about the people who are here already, who are here illegally?
Inslee: I would create a path for citizenship that would be based on those who we think have a reasonable expectation to be good citizens. And I think we could do that, and the estimates as you know range in the 11 million number. And if they were all deported tomorrow the US economy would probably collapse. I talked to a farmer in Idaho yesterday. I was in Idaho doing some political work. And he was telling me, “What are these Republicans thinking? They’re going to remove 11 million people? What do you think is going to happen to the [agriculture] industry? It’s not going to exist as we know it if that in fact happened.”
So here we have this terrible problem that governors and mayors are now trying to sort out, that we have 11 million people who are doing great work as employees. They’re our neighbors, they’re soccer coaches, they’re going to our churches. They’re doing everything we expect of good citizens. And yet they have to live in the shadows, and we can’t provide them services in a meaningful way, and they have to be afraid the next time the door knocks. And the fear is so palatable and terrible. I mean, I meet these kids, and they’ll tell you, “I don’t know if mom or dad are going to be there when I get home from school.” I mean, life’s tough already, to be a kid. And the terror Donald Trump is exposing these children to gets my goat.
Healey: If I could follow up on that: One of the criticisms of paths to citizenship in the previous federal laws was that they create an expectation for people who continue to come into the country that they some point will be granted the same path. In other words, that’s why people call this “amnesty.” How do you push back against this argument?
Inslee: You have a meaningful border, and you use meaningful, humane ways to enforce the border in the laws of the United States. And there are more things we can do, there’s more security we can provide. Obviously, Donald Trump’s vanity project in the wall is not one of them. It’s a massive waste. It will have virtually no effective [improvement in] security for billions of dollars. We do have new electronic measures and the like that I have voted for in the past to make sure we have a secure border. And I can hardly believe that that concern would trump the fact that you’ve got 11 million people who effectively are part of our community and our neighborhoods that now have to live in a reign of terror, and are reduced of their effectiveness of their fellow citizens.
This again comes back to the filibuster issue. One of the reasons we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform is because of filibustering. And I point out that this is a country with some dire challenges: climate change, the need to go to universal health care, comprehensive immigration reform. I do not understand somebody saying they are serious about any of these things unless they’re willing to step up to the plate and are willing to get rid of the filibuster. And I know it sounds like an arcane procedural thing, but it’s a question of whether we have a shot or not.
Martelle: Have you thought through what the threshold would be for time in country for someone to qualify for legal status? And this gets to the whole incentive issue. If you stay on the ground for three years, five years, seven years, maybe you can get…
Inslee: I don’t have a single number I would be wedded to. I’m confident a president, once the filibuster is gone, can have a shot at really forging enough votes to pass the U.S. Congress, particularly if the Democrats pick up a couple seats in the Senate. I think there’s a very good chance of being able to do that. And the reason is if you get rid of the filibuster, you can get a bill up for a vote. And when people have to actually vote for something, sometimes they actually vote right. They hide in the shadows before then. That’s why this is so important.
Healey: In 2013, you had the Senate pass a comprehensive immigration reform measure. Died in the House. Wasn’t the filibuster that killed that one.
Inslee: Good point. I’m still against the filibuster.
Garza: Does the president have any power to get rid of the filibuster?
Inslee: No. It would take a vote of 50 senators.
Garza: Right, so absent that, how are you going to be able to get some of your key issues passed?
Inslee: Well, the same way you get anything passed. You use the bully pulpit. You use the power of inspiration to say: “Ask not what your planet can do for you; ask what you can do for the planet.” And hope the power of inspiration has some effect to help people see your way.
Goldberg: That hasn’t been a very effective strategy for the last decade or so.
Inslee: Sure it has. We got healthcare reform because of Barack Obama’s leadership and Nancy Pelosi’s, who, by the way, is an incredible leader and deserves enormous credit for healthcare reform. We have made progress. But, I’ll come back to my central tenet, you only have that progress when you have a president aligned to make it a top priority. So what I’m saying is: No, I’m not here to guarantee you success. That is not my message to you. I’m here to guarantee you that we would have a chance at success if I was given this honor, because I think I understand the fundamental thing you’d have to do to give yourself a chance for success.
Kerry Cavanaugh, editorial writer: In Washington, there was a ballot measure a year or two ago that was climate change related. But that failed.
Healey: Are you talking about the carbon tax?
Cavanaugh: Yeah. How could the public have faith that as a president you would get it done if, as governor, you didn’t get it done?
Inslee: Because I am getting it done. There’s another part of the story. There was a carbon tax on the ballot, and it went down. And the oil and gas companies spent $32 million against it, and when they do that it can create quite a bit of doubt of things. So it went down rather handily. But we were undaunted. We went right back and got in the saddle, and I introduced five bills that in total would achieve the same level of carbon dioxide reduction as the carbon tax would have. I passed four of them. So we got to 80% of the goal that we wanted in the gas tax initiative. Or the carbon tax initiative. And now, I need two more votes in the Senate to get that [fifth bill] through. And I may have it if I get the right Supreme Court decision anyway. Because a year and a half ago, I put an industry-wide carbon executive order through. It’s now in the courts. If we get a favorable Supreme Court decision, I’ll have 100% of what we wanted in that. So we got the vast majority of what we wanted through, through alternative means. And one of the things I’ve learned from this is that there are a lot of ways to skin the cat here. But you have to have some robust means to do it.
To some degree, I think that the wavelength of discussion of this is focused so much on the price that we’ve forgotten about all the other tools that are at our disposal. If you look at California’s experience, the vast majority of the carbon saving have come from the regulatory system rather than the pricing system, the cap and trade system. So these are very effective tools we are putting in place in Washington state. But we’re not done. Listen, you have to understand we’re not in the Garden of Eden yet. We have more work to do. But we’re doing it.
Cavanaugh: But the fact the fossil fuel industry is putting up a lot of money and causes a lot of disinformation, clearly that would happen at the national scale as well. What lessons did you take away from that? And how would you combat that in the future?
Inslee: Well we did take away lessons, that’s important. And we took away a lesson you shouldn’t just depend on a carbon tax. You should use other means, you should use other tools, you should use other types of policies. You should use a regulatory system that is robust, comprehensive and meaningful. And importantly, as a time period that’s necessitated by the science. So those are the lessons we learned, and those are now replicated in my proposal for the nation.
Now my proposal we made for the nation are a little more robust than what we have in place in Washington state. But, again, a presidency has a little more sway than a governor. So we’re being a little more aggressive. The information just demands it. I’ve been reading this stuff on a daily basis for decades. And what’s coming over the transom right now from the scientific community, their hair is on fire. Because we are seeing the permafrost melting. The big disaster movie of climate change is if the permafrost melts, because the permafrost has gigatons of methane in it, and methane is 15 or 30 times worse than carbon dioxide per molecule. And the concern was if that happened, you can get sort of runaway climate change. And it was predicted that would happen in 2090, if we didn’t change course. Well, three weeks ago the reports come out that we are now observing some of the permafrost melting today. And this is the catastrophic thing, if in fact that happened on a wide-scale basis. So what I’m telling you is whatever we thought a month ago, we got to be more adamant this month.
Healey: Hillary Clinton commented about coal miners, having to help them transition into other careers. Her remarks got put into a different context, suggesting she was trying to put them all out of work. The same attack could be leveled against you about oil and gas. What’s your thought for how those industries, and the people who work in them, function in a post-climate change world?
Inslee: No. 1: I start with the proposition that the people in these industries are as dedicated and hardworking as any other community in the United States. They built the industrial might of the United States. They deserve to have every bit of economic promise and prospects as any other part of the country, including Silicon Valley. That’s where I start this. We have to have a just transition, so that during this transition they do as well as anyone else in the United States. That’s where I start the conversation. We’ve been committed to that. If there’s been a refrain in our discussion, it’s that the things that we’ve done in Washington state show a template on how to do it nationally. So we closed, we’re closing our last coal fired plant. It’s in Centralia, Washington. It’s a town 80 miles south of Seattle. Small town. Hundreds of workers. But we didn’t just flip the off switch, we created a $55 million transition plan that helps not only the families but the communities. Not only was it education and retraining, but jobs. Because you got to have jobs, a degree is not enough. So we focused on economic development as well.
So that’s kind of a template on what we do nationally. These are folks with tremendous skills, a tremendously skilled pool of people. And we have to make sure they have jobs to move forward during that transition. And that’s why we talk about it as a just transition. Same with oil refinery workers. And the skill set needed is very similar to the other manufacturing work that we do. The skill sets that people have today in the oil refinery are essentially the same skill set to manufacture solar panels. Mechanically oriented people with good work ethic. That transition we are making today. This is not imaginary. I was in Billingham four days ago, and I see a lot of people and they’ve made this transition. If it wasn’t for Trump’s trade war, we’d be growing even faster. Just helping people to have a vision of them in these new industries.
Now, having said that, I think it’s important to realize change is difficult. Change is concerning. We need to recognize that. You shouldn’t expect people to not think twice about change of this dimension. It’s one of the reasons we need someone who will really make this a top priority of their administration, because it is difficult. But I believe we’ve done it in the past, and we’re going to do it again.
Cavanaugh: One of the things we hear a lot, at least in California, is that refinery jobs are union jobs, making six figures. Solar installations — non-union jobs — make a fraction of that. Is there a role for government to play? How do we ensure that the jobs replacing fossil fuel jobs are as well-paid and union-protected as other jobs?
Inslee: By adopting the evergreen economy plan, which is what we call our plan. So what we did is, we’ve embedded throughout the system a way to ensure we have high family-wage jobs in this transition. A significant part of that is in our plan for infrastructure; we give additional points, if you will, to reward that type of corporate behavior. So you get an additional 10 points if you pay prevailing wage. You get an additional 10 points if you haven’t had a safety violation. You get an additional 10 points if you respect people’s ability to form a collective bargaining unit. So we’ve embedded some incentives if you will to increase wages and union participation, frankly, over time. We’ve also embedded in it sort of a prioritization for front line communities, communities that have been redlined. We’ll do an announcement next Monday, I think, of our environmental justice part, where will give these things to you in detail. We’ll basically use this mechanism to try to have additional investment in communities that have been redlined for decades in the United States. So we’re embedding the racial justice aspect of this with the environmental aspect as well.
And I just fundamentally believe this, too, that the bottom half of the economy has not had a pay increase for 20 years. And a very significant part of that has been the collapse of the union movement in the United States. I think it’s important to give it a chance to have a rebirth.
Cavanaugh: The role of the government then is incentivizing or providing companies that commit to you by putting them at the front of the line?
Inslee: That’s one way. But the other is to change our collective bargaining laws economy-wide so people have a chance to have a union. With the consolidation in various industries it has been much, much more difficult for people to have collective bargaining unions. So things like including the card check, including the provision that really has a functioning [National Labor Relations Board], including the right of a civil action if there are abuses of collective bargaining rights, measures that will prevent overbearing actions by management during collective bargaining initiatives. Those actions are all important, so we’ve proposed them for the whole economy, not just the clean energy economy.
Goldberg: We’re just about out of time. Any last questions?
Garza: Yeah. Broadly talking about foreign relations, we didn’t really talk about that at all, are there any policies, tariffs or actions that Donald Trump has taken—
Inslee: That were right?
Garza: That were right that you would continue, or would you reverse everything he’s done in regards to our international policies?
Inslee: Before I answer that, can I just say something I didn’t want to forget? You guys have got a great mayor here and I hope you treat him well. He’s done fantastic work, especially in this clean energy field. I hope that you’re gracious to him.
Healey: We haven’t beaten him up yet this week.
Inslee: This week? His water infrastructure stuff he did, from an energy perspective, has been fantastic. His approach to fossil fuel infrastructure has been fantastic. He’s really a national leader on this.
Martelle: So you’re naming a vice presidential nominee?
Inslee: No, we’ve got a few candidates.
So. Big topic. It’s hard to find something right. I’m sure there is something; it’s not coming to mind at the moment.
Garza: Just name a country around the world. China. North Korea.
Inslee: We’re not in a shooting war with Canada. So I will conclude this has been a success so far in this administration.
Healey: He may end the war in Afghanistan.
Inslee: It’s possible. It’s possible.
Garza: Would you?
Inslee: Yes. I would withdraw major ground troops from Afghanistan. You want to, you know, maintain some Special Ops capability in the region. But major ground forces to rebuild that nation, I don’t believe should be in our mission statement at the moment.
Healey: Even without a deal with the Taliban?
Inslee: Yes. Hopefully that happens, but I think it’s time.
And to answer your question, I think his approach virtually in every context has been a willful destruction of our alliances across the world. In every form, from climate change to trade to you name it. And it’s difficult to find a lot of successes when you go into any effort with the goal of reducing your alliances around the world. And I think he’s actually weakened our ability to deal with North Korea, he’s weakened our ability to deal with Iran. I believe we had a perfectly serviceable treaty that was being respected, that we had verified compliance with in Iran, and now we are here shooting down each other’s drones, when Iran was complying with the agreement.
Now call me old-fashioned, but I remember when America used to honor its treaties, too, and not have rogue guys going out by tweet tearing up our agreements. We had an agreement with Iran, and he just tore it up willy-nilly. That’s just one example of the problems we’ve had. We need international leadership on climate change. We need not just the Paris Agreement, we need Paris 2.0; it needs to be much more aggressive. We need to deal with China’s financing of fossil fuel plants around the world, because China has actually done some pretty good things domestically to reduce their reliance on coal, but they’re financing coal plants around the world, particularly in developing nations, in their Belt and Road project. So we have to be much more aggressive to work with our allies on that effort.
That’s a quick rundown. And of course his trade policies have been ruinous; they’re killing the agriculture community. We’ve lost all kinds of markets in my state. Iowa is getting hammered. When I was there in Hamburg, Iowa, I saw the twin bad ideas of Donald Trump: The silos were all full of grain because the farmers couldn’t sell it anywhere, so every silo was just stuffed, and here comes the flood, and the flooding is made worse over time because of his climate change policy, and it wiped out these silos and there’s grain laying all over the ground all over Iowa.
Goldberg: Well thank you for coming in.
Inslee: Thank you for the chance to talk with you, and hopefully you’ll inspire all your readers to send in a buck to JayInslee.com, too.
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