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

Inslee's Climate-focused White House Bid

Air Date: Week of

In Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2019 State of the State address, given on January 15, 2019, he implored legislators to act on climate change. Gov. Inslee is contemplating a run for President in 2020. (Photo: Office of the Governor, Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, hasn’t yet officially announced his run for the presidency, but he’s positioning himself to be “the” climate change candidate if he does run. With his focus linking economic prosperity with environmental policy, Governor Inslee says the nation has great potential if it has a common purpose, and “there’s no better common purpose than to defeat climate change.” He’s considering making a bid to convince the American people that he can bring the progress he’s made in Washington State to Washington, D.C. Governor Inslee talks with Host Steve Curwood about why federal climate action is urgently needed and how it can be achieved.



CURWOOD: From PRI and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

BASCOMB: And I’m Bobby Bascomb.

It’s still more than year before the first US presidential primaries, and no Republican has yet to announce he or she will go after President Trump. But, there are a couple dozen Democrats who have either announced or are flirting heavily with the notion of campaigning, including at least two who say climate change would be front and center if they do run. Former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg visited the early primary state of New Hampshire at the end of January to explore running, and he’s famously donated millions of dollars to advocates of climate protection.

CURWOOD: Polling ahead of Michael Bloomberg in a recent Rolling Stone ranking, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has also been to New Hampshire and he sees himself as the climate change candidate, though he has yet to declare. Jay Inslee has been Governor of Washington since 2013, and before that served eight terms in Congress. While in Congress, Governor Inslee wrote the book "Apollo's Fire," in which he presented the core idea of what people today call today "Green New Deal, " that is the economic prosperity that a clean energy revolution could bring. Governor Inslee joins me now from Seattle. Governor, hi there! Welcome to Living on Earth!

INSLEE: Yeah, it's a good place to live. We'd like to keep it this way.

CURWOOD: Indeed. So, tell me, why do you want to be president?

INSLEE: Well, I haven't made the decision to run yet, but should I do, it's because I believe that we have an existential threat to our well-being, and the nation's future. In order to defeat climate change, I do believe that it will require a leader who will call forth the best innovative talents and intellectual energies and spirit of optimism that this nation has, and put it to work, defeating climate change and building a clean energy economy. And we have to have that voice from the White House to do that. And when we get that kind of rallying cry, this nation can do amazing things. We went to the moon because we had a president who called forth that effort, and we did it; we defeated fascism. The nation just has incredible capability if we have a vision and a common purpose, and there's no better common purpose, or more necessary common purpose, or more urgent common purpose than to defeat climate change. So, there's many other things that I know our nation needs. They need what we have in Washington, a net neutrality bill, a family leave bill, an increase in the minimum wage, a gender pay equity bill, a reproductive parity bill, a transportation infrastructure that we have. We've got all these remarkable things I and others have been able to accomplish. But fundamentally, we need this as the first and foremost priority in the United States.

CURWOOD: About 12 years ago, you wrote a book, it's called Apollo's Fire. It's about bringing labor and clean energy advocates together. Today, there's all this buzz about a national Green New Deal. So, let's fast forward a couple of years -- ah, you've just been elected president of the United States, Jay Inslee -- what should the Green New Deal be going forward in the Inslee Administration?

INSLEE: Number one, it needs to be very ambitious, and it needs to be of large scale and scope. And that has to be a scope that is similar to what we did in the Apollo project, similar to what we did when we defeated fascism. Because we know that during the next several decades, we have to decarbonize our economy, we will not be able to be putting gigatons of carbon dioxide in the air decades from now from burning fossil fuels. That is a scientific fact. And so, you have to reorient the entire federal government around this purpose. In our transportation policy, we have to embed the use of non-fossil fuel based systems and public transportation to reduce our co2 footprint. It has to do with some of our land use planning so that we decrease the distance people have to travel to and from work. We need to update our building codes so that we have more net zero commercial buildings. And it has to embrace the idea of bringing equity to our economy to break this horrendous situation of the haves and have nots where all of the economic gain is going to the top X percent. And that means we have to build jobs around this, with huge training programs, to essentially allow people options to go into these new clean energy jobs. That's important, not only for the people, but it's also for the businesses because they're going to need this talent during this transition.

CURWOOD: Now, it's been a decade since you were in Congress supporting the Waxman-Markey bill to put a limit on carbon dioxide; it didn't pass and, you know, tell the truth, not much has really happened since then. Why do you think you can break this log jam?

INSLEE: Well, it had, I'll just take issue a little bit with that -- it hasn't happened in Washington, DC. But it has happened in California. It has happened in Washington, it is happening in Oregon and British Columbia, and a lot of the rest of the world. So there actually has been a lot of action, Jerry Brown and I, and Governor Cuomo, we started the US Climate Alliance. And we have now 18 states; if we were a separate nation, this US Climate Alliance, we would be the third largest nation or economy in the world. I'm not suggesting that, by the way, we're happy as states at the moment! So, we are actually making progress in the states. In my state, we're second at having the most electric vehicles, we have a renewable portfolio standard that has created this multibillion dollar wind industry and putting hundreds or thousands of people to work. We are doing great research and development into new technologies. We're building electric charging stations up and down our freeway system; we are moving the needle in our states where we have leadership. And I think that's an important point because the American people are ready to go, they just need a little leadership to launch the starter's pistol here. And where we have that we are making progress. In my legislature, this year, I am promoting five new bills that will give us 100% clean electricity, cleaner transportation fuels, and a host of other things. But we need to have that kind of leadership in our nation's capital so that the most innovative can-do people in the history of the world, namely, Americans, can get to work here and grow jobs which are growing by the bucket full.

CURWOOD: Well, okay, so how do you break the Washington, D.C. log jam?

INSLEE: Well, the first and foremost thing you do is get a president who's not denying the existence of climate change. And that's the most fundamental thing -- look, we got a president who's out of touch with the science that sixth graders know in my school districts, across the state of Washington understand the science of climate change, and you got a president who's denying it. That's a first and foremost thing you do. And we do it as fast as we can, and with as much dedication as we can.

CURWOOD: So, that'll be you.

INSLEE: It could be, and if it's someone else who can do a better job, let them have it. But we got to get somebody who has a vision statement to make this the paramount duty of the state of Washington --the United States. And here's the reason I say that. This isn't an easy job. It is a hard job. And it's just like Kennedy said, we choose to go to the moon, not because it's easy, because it is hard. And you have to muster the political capital, you have to have the dedication, you have to have the perseverance to get this job done. So, you have to make it a priority. And the reason it's appropriate to make it a priority, is climate change is so many other issues wrapped around it. It's social equity, it's building a more equitable economy so that working people have a shot to have a decent wage. It is an issue of national security, because we know the Pentagon recognizes this, the mass migrations driven by starvation because of the deserts growing here and across the planet. It's an issue of health, where our children are experiencing increasing asthma rates because they're breathing this toxicity from diesel and fossil fuels. So, this issue is a priority, in part, because it can address all of these other issues and unite us around a common purpose to get this job done. So, getting a new president is the first, and obviously, we're going to need some changes in the Senate to get this done. We've had major increases in the house this year, because the people of the United States, even with gerrymandering, basically tossed out a bunch of the Trumpistas and replaced them with people that want to get down to this business of defeating climate change. That's a really good thing.

CURWOOD: When you're president of the United States, what changes do you expect to make in the way that we handle our public lands?

INSLEE: First we need to do is to break free of the shackles of the fossil fuel industry and their control of the US Congress. These are public lands; they don't belong to the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry is the most powerful economic juggernaut in human history. And they pretty much have bought and paid for and control the Congressional system. That needs to change. And one of the first places to do it is to stop them from raiding our public treasury, which are our public lands, those are our ultimate source of health and clean water and recreation. And unfortunately, Trump, as you know, has tried to turn it over; he hasn't drained the swamp, he's given it to the alligators! And he wants them to get rich on it. And we know that scientifically, the vast majority of that fossil fuel has to remain in the ground if we're going to have a fighting chance to stop civilization-jeopardizing climate change. And some of that language might, you know, strike you as vaguely apocalyptic, but that's what the science says. It just says we are going to be facing major changes in our life, for mass migration and starvation, and changing the ability to have fish in our rivers to go fishing, or snow in our mountains, or forests in my state. Look, I grew up hiking in my state, and it's just so beautiful, our forests are so beautiful. They are essentially going to be devastated if you end up taking all this fossil fuel out of the ground and putting it in the air, you're going to kill our forests. And I don't think that's a vision we should accept. So, it starts with a populist uprising against the fossil fuel industry and it moves on from there.

CURWOOD: My guest is Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington State. He's looking closely at running for president as a Democrat. We’ll be back with him in moment. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.

CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood.

We're back now with Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State and a likely Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential campaign. So, Governor Inslee, you know, the surveys show that a majority of Americans care about climate change, think it's a problem, but only a minority think that urgent action is needed. Most folks say, hey, there's -- the studies predict disaster a dozen years out -- figure, hey, we have a dozen years to get our act together. How do you get people to move now?

INSLEE: Well, that actually is changing very dramatically. And actually, just since last March, because people have watched Paradise California burn to the ground. And that's pretty stunning. I was there a few weeks ago.

CURWOOD: How did you feel about that? When you saw it.

INSLEE: Devastated. You know, I drove for an hour -- by the way, this is not a small village, this is 25,000 people -- I drove for an hour. And every so often you'd see one house that wasn't destroyed. But otherwise, that whole town was burned right to the foundation. When you see that, as Americans are; when people now see the massive flooding in Texas; the sea level rise in Miami, where I was a few weeks ago, where I went with the mayor where they had to, they've had to build the roads up a foot and a half. So now in Miami Beach, you have to walk down to the shops because the streets have to be up above and they're still getting inundated. When you see the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world's largest living systems -- half of it is dead today. Not 50 years from now; today. Here in Seattle, I've lived here for decades; for the first time, ever, people woke up in the morning and there was ash on the hoods of their cars, because we had these catastrophic fires in the eastern Cascades and in British Columbia. It's never happened before. And people were kind of shocked by this. Our air quality this summer was so bad, we had to close swimming pools because of the forest fire smoke, and kids cannot go out and go swimming. Our air quality last summer was the worst, and I hate to say this, but it was the worst in the world. Not Beijing, not New Delhi; Seattle, Washington. And unfortunately, this could become the normal if we do not act, because our forests are so stricken because of drought and heat conditions. So, the point is, people are now recognizing the urgency of this. And the scientific community has made this clear. And unfortunately, two years from now, in November 2020, it's going to be worse. And there's going to be more people who understand that because the science makes this clear that it's getting worse every year. So, we need to skate where the puck is going to be, rather than where it is right now. And it is going to be in a place where more and more people realize we've got to act.

CURWOOD: Now, there's something called the Environmental Voter Project, that says the most green voters, those who put the environment like number one or number two of their top priorities -- these are registered voters -- are young folks, and people of color -- black people, and Hispanics. But these registered voters don't vote because, in part because the researchers say, no one asks them for their votes. Politicians typically will do little surveys and go after the folks who regularly vote. So, if you don't vote, you don't get asked. How are you going to find these super green voters and get them to support your candidacy? Should you finally decide to run.

INSLEE: Well, the same way that Stacey Abrams did in Georgia, who ran such a good race, who energized young people and people of color, and we are dedicated to that and I've had some success in this. We picked up 10 seats in our legislature this year, in part because we went to communities of color. And this message is very important. I remember meeting a woman, a 14-year-old Latina young woman who on the banks of the Duwamish here in Seattle, it's the industrial area; where she said that she was 11 years old before she found out that some kids didn't have asthma. All her friends at asthma, because she lives next to the freeway and in this industrial area, where there's a lot of pollution. The people who get hurt first by climate change are the people who live in poverty and the marginalized communities. And that's why the climate change issue is an issue of equity, social and economic equity, because the first people who are going to be saved are those who lived on the edges of our society next to the freeways, and the toxic waste dumps, and the cancer alleys. For the young folks, we have gone to campuses. In fact, this year, I started a competition between the colleges to see who could register the most young voters. And so, the winner's coming down to lunch next week to celebrate that victory. So, we have been very intensely focused on that. And they are all over this, they get this big time and they are looking for a candidate who will champion this mission. And I could be that candidate.

Gov. Inslee at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for new electric vehicle fast-charging stations in Tacoma, Washington on Aug. 7, 2018.(Photo: courtesy of Forth Mobility / Jay Inslee, Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)

CURWOOD: Governor, you've pretty confidently said, you're ready to go up against President Donald J. Trump. How do you even envision having a debate with him about climate change, especially when every time the country faces an especially cold spell, he hints that, it's all a fiction.

INSLEE: Well, I would be eager to have that opportunity. I feel very confident in that matchup. I feel that the nation is an optimistic nation, and he is a pessimistic man. I feel we're a courageous nation, and he is a fearful person. He is driven by insecurities. We know where bullies come from, beliefs come from a sense of insecurity. And it's clear that that is at his core. So, I've had a confrontation with him once already in the White House. And I have felt confident from that, that I will be in good shape on any stage with him.

CURWOOD: Tell me how you took him on in the White House.

INSLEE: I was there with the National Governors Association, and we were discussing gun safety after the school shootings. And his answer was, we'll have first grade teachers just wear Glock pistols on their, on their waist and that'll solve the problem, which I thought was ridiculous. And so, does the vast majority of Americans. So, I told him that; I stood up and told him about that. And he just sort of, he adopts this sort of petulant, arms crossed and he rocks, he rocks back and forth when he's insecure, you can see it and I told him eventually -- I just closed by saying, you know what, you need to tweet less and you need to listen more. You need to listen to teachers about this ridiculous idea of yours and you need to back up. And he just didn't really respond. So, I had a person-to-person confrontation with him and feel very confident about my ability to do it. Now on the climate change aspect of this, the country gets this on the science. There's no question about the science. The vast majority of Americans understand that. So, we're past that. I think that the climate change message in a race against him is not just about the science of climate change. It's about the character of the American people. I represent a vision based on optimism and a can-do spirit. He represents a vision of a cramped, pessimistic, fearful nation that has to retreat behind walls, and can't innovate its way out of a box. I represent a nation that wants to lead the world and be a leader in the world as we historically have. He wants to think the only industry we're going to have is the ones that were here in 1900. So, those are debates about the American character that I think we have the winning side on, and that's why I'm confident about a matchup against him because it's about America as much it is about the science of carbon dioxide. So yes, I would be eager for that.

Washington state is blessed with plentiful sources of carbon-free energy. Wind energy and solar contribute modest amounts of electricity to its grid, but by far the largest source of the state’s energy is hydroelectric power.(Photo: CJ Anderson, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

CURWOOD: I know you're officially still thinking about this; are you prepared to have not very good food; sleep in really lumpy beds; not see your family very much; get hammered by the press; have, some nights, horrible results from the polls to become president of the United States?

INSLEE: Well, I'll just give you an anecdote about that. We were trying to get to New Hampshire last weekend, and they canceled our flight. We drove about four or five hours over icy roads from New Jersey to New Hampshire. We got to a motel at, I don't know, midnight, one o'clock? Got out of the car and it was, you know, nine degrees and the wind was blowin' like a banshee. And I turned to my buddy who was accompanying me saying, Hey, man, this is heaven on earth. Because I'm in New Hampshire, potentially running for president of the United States with a vision that I really believe in. And that's how I felt. This is a grand opportunity for us. It's a time of great peril. But it is a time of great promise, of economic growth. And for those who are down in the dumps, because we got a climate denier in the White House -- listen, we got a mission here, to fight. And there's nothing better than when you're fighting on a grand crusade with people who you believe in. And that's what we're doing here. So, these are good days to be alive. And I may end up being a candidate, we'll see.

CURWOOD: Jay Inslee is governor of Washington State and considered by many to be a Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential elections. Thank you so much, Governor.

INSLEE: Thanks for having me. Don't forget to vote.



The Atlantic | “Jay Inslee Is Betting He Can Win the Presidency on Climate Change”

About Governor Inslee

Governor Jay Inslee’s book “Apollo’s Fire”


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