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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Peering into the Platform

Air Date: Week of

Congressman Jay Inslee.

Living on Earth takes a look at the environmental issues in the Democratic platform, ranging from coal to climate change, with the help of Congressman Jay Inslee of Washington State.


CURWOOD: Now, for many of the most ardent environmental advocates, jobs are just the beginning of what they would like to see in a green revolution in America. At the core of this is the threat of climate disruption from the burning of coal and oil and its links to the current economic difficulties.

Among the democrats in the house who are the greenest advocates is Jay Inslee of Washington State. He’s on the house committee on Energy and Commerce and the select committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. He joins us to discuss the Democratic platform.

Thank you for appearing with us Congressman.

INSLEE: You bet.

CURWOOD: In your book “Apollo’s Fire; Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy” you tackled the alternative energy challenge. Now how does this democratic platform that’s been adopted measure up to the plan that you outline in your book?

INSLEE: Well, I’m thrilled. I’ve been waiting now for at least half a decade for democrats to lead the country to an optimistic energy future based on clean energy and I think the moment has arrived. The planets have just aligned perfectly where the technology for the new clean energy from solar to thermal to photovoltaic to enhanced geo thermal, they’ve all arrived. The science of global warming is absolute consensus and clear as a bell. And now we are going to have a president who gets it heart and soul who is really going to ask America to lift their sights and I think fundamentally Senator Obama and the democratic platform believe that it’s a moment where we should stop looking just below our feet for energy and start looking above our shoulders and between our ears because that’s where the infinite source of energy is, which is American ingenuity - and this platform and this president is going to deliver on that message. It’s a can-do optimistic message and optimism always wins in this country.

CURWOOD: Speaking of beneath our feet, in your book you said that coal can be compressed into a diamond, but diamonds are not necessarily a girl’s best friend when it comes to the environment. You point out a lot of dangers about coal. This platform is really vague about coal, congressman. At one point it says we need to quote, “clean up our coal plants,” but what does that mean and what should be done and how does that meet your expectations for a clean energy future for America?

INSLEE: I think it’s real clear that there’s no silver bullet that we have to embrace all technologies that have the potential to be zero CO2 emitting clean energy technologies. And so none should be ignored and all have to be embraced in the research and development platform. We don’t know which one of these technologies will be dominate. Some of them may not succeed. And it’s like any investment strategy we need to be prudent and not put all of our eggs in one basket. Here’s one caution though, we are not going to allow the budget for coal, even though it is now a dominate source of energy to overwhelm the budgets for solar wind, geothermal, lithium-ion batteries, and the rest. We have got to have a distribution of the research pie, if you will, oriented to the potential of these new technologies, not their historical artifact and that will be a debate in congress in the upcoming session to make sure we have an adequate research budget, based on the future, which are these truly clean renewable sources like solar, wind and the like and that’s a direction this country is worthy of.

CURWOOD: There’s a quote that says, quote, “We must end the tyranny of oil in our time.” My question to you is how does any president deal with this? If you look at the Fortune 500 listing of the top 10 companies in the world, six are oil companies, in terms of revenue, and the top five most-profitable companies are oil companies as well. How does a president of the U.S. take on what is arguabley the most profitable and powerful industry on the planet?

INSLEE: Well, Senator Obama isn’t doing this rhetorically. He has already stepped up to the plate and gone nose to nose with the oil and gas industry which has been tyrannical in a sense in Washington D.C. It has driven the agenda of lock, stock and barrel during the Republican domination of two oilmen in the White House. And I think that was most apparent when we had a vote, which passed in the house that would reel back in about 20 billion dollars of unjustified subsidies of the oil and gas industry, its not like the companies are hurting right now and they need Uncle Sam to help them and would have put that money into a clean energy fund for solar and wind and lithium ion batteries and plug-in electric hybrid cars to help consumers get efficient vehicles. Now this was a fundamental defining moment in the U.S. Congress about whether we were going to finally break the shackles of oil, which has stymied progress in clean energy to date. And we had, interestingly enough, our two candidates for president were tested at that moment and Barack Obama stepped up to the plate and hit it out of the park and voted to reel back in that money from oil and gas and put it into a clean energy future his opponent Senator McCain was AWOL. He was in Washington D.C. but he didn’t vote. We needed one vote. The country needed Senator McCain to step up to break the filibuster we had 59 votes. We needed one more Senator to change the course of this country and Senator McCain was AWOL. Now if that is not a defining difference between these two candidates I don’t know what is. It was replicated in the vote on the renewable portfolio standard where Senator Obama voted for a 15% standard for clean energy for solar, wind and the like for electricity. Senator McCain voted with the oil and gas industry and voted against it. So I got to tell you when I saw Senator McCain’s ad the other day with wind turbines in it, I about went through the roof. My wife had to peel me off the ceiling. Here’s a guy that stuck a dagger in the heart of a new idea for clean energy, voted under the thumb of oil and gas and now pretends to be a leader on the subject. We need Senator Obama on this. It is a clear choice and I think you can see what side I’m fighting on.

U.S. Rep Jay Inslee

CURWOOD: Now, Congressman, lets assume for a moment that Senator Obama is deeply, deeply committed to dealing with climate change, as he says. How high a priority is it going to be for him when he gets into office – in particular I’m thinking of the next round of negotiations for the Kyoto process. Now the rest of the industrial world has agreed on limits on green house gases. And the next round of negotiations must be completed by December of next year, but defacto by June of next year, because these international processes have a long lead-time. To what extent do you think he is committed on day one coming in office getting the mechanisms into place so the U.S. can negotiate and have a clear position that the rest of the world can accept by June of his first year in office?

INSLEE: Well it is gonna be a challenge for any new president and new congress for us to do very quickly. We only have a matter of months to really reverse course. But I believe this guy has what it takes to cut the mustard and I’ll tell you why I believe this. Number one, he has already shown his chops on this issue. He has already demonstrated a very aggressive bold plan. He has asked for a 100% auction for polluters to have to pay for pollution. He’s got an aggressive position on what the CO2 cap will be. I think he’s already sort of confronted the oil and gas paradigm. And I think in listening to him, he understands that the need for this technological transformation is absolutely imperative. Al Gore gave us the challenge of de-carbonizing our economy in ten years or so. Which is an ambitious program. But it isn’t Al Gore’s timeline, it’s mother natures. So what we have is a perfect alignment of the planets together with a moment in history. You know, if we didn’t have John F. Kennedy in May, 1961 we would have not gone to the moon. And we are going to need Senator Obama in office on January 20, 2009 if we are going to create a new technological revolution. And I think we are going to get that, and boy I’ve been waiting for it for over a decade.

CURWOOD: Jay Inslee is a Democrat from Washington State. Thank you Congressman Inslee.

INSLEE: Thank You.



To read the platform, click here

To check out Jay Inslee’s book “Apollo’s Fire,” click here

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee’s website

To listen to Living on Earth’s previous election coverage, click here


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