Most people in Washington and the United States believe climate change is a threat and that government should do more about it, according to the latest national surveys.
Regardless of how far Gov. Jay Inslee gets in his apparent bid for the White House, he has a tremendous opportunity to make climate change and the environment focal points in the 2020 presidential race.
Every viable candidate must have a workable, national plan to substantially reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while growing the economy, especially after major setbacks under President Donald Trump. Inslee hasn’t yet announced a campaign but is acting like a candidate.
As Washington’s governor, Inslee has a compelling story to tell about the state’s ability to grow its economy, increase education spending and host the nation’s two most valuable companies — all while reducing emissions, increasing use of renewable energy and enforcing strong regulations to protect the health of forests, waterways and air quality. His experience living in Yakima County and representing Washington’s farm country in Congress is also a plus.
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At the same time, Inslee must stay focused on his current job, despite the urgency of the climate situation and the national spotlight. Inslee’s attention is especially needed during the next six months as the Legislature grapples with his proposal to belatedly address the dire state of mental-health services in Washington. He also has presented an ambitious and costly spending plan on the environment and an array of other issues that demand his engagement.
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Inslee made clean energy and climate change signature issues in Congress and as governor since he took that office in 2012.
While Inslee’s calls for a carbon tax foundered and his aggressive clean-air regulations to directly cap emissions were stymied by legal challenges, he still made progress. Inslee secured investments in clean-energy research, pushed to increase electric vehicle use in the state and co-founded a coalition of 17 governors working to uphold the Paris Agreement on climate-change goals.
Energy related greenhouse-gas emissions in Washington declined 3 percent since their pre-recession high in 2007, despite population growth and the nation’s fastest economic growth in recent years. Emissions are expected to fall 5.5 percent by the time Inslee’s current term ends in 2020, according to modeling by the state Office of Financial Management.
Although Washington voters twice rejected carbon taxes, that could be to Inslee’s advantage: He’s particularly qualified to address the challenge of building consensus for environmental policies.
Will Inslee draw on that experience and pursue a national climate agenda that could win support beyond his deep green base, or will he run as a provocateur, forcing the other presidential candidates to prioritize the issue until the primary?
The time has come. Most people in Washington and the U.S. believe climate change is a threat and that government should do more about it, according to the latest national surveys done by Yale and George Mason universities.
Growing awareness affirms the need for a candidate like Inslee to champion the cause. It also suggests that it’s time to elevate the policy discussion and move beyond hyperbolic arguments about whether climate change is real or not. The majority is convinced and doesn’t need fear mongering or virtue signaling from either side.
People are ready to have a reasonable conversation about how to respond, and the cost and effectiveness of various options. That’s a key take-away from the failure of November’s carbon-tax proposal, Initiative 1631: It failed not because Washingtonians are conflicted, misled or denying climate change, but because they want government’s response to be reasonable, effective and accountable. Such subtleties were lost in the acrid campaign, fueled by record campaign spending by oil companies and others.
Inslee also can point to innovation as a path forward. He’s been a strong advocate for private- and public-sector research and advanced product development. That includes championing state support for Boeing’s development of cutting-edge, fuel-efficient jetliners. The state also has a strong cluster of expertise in nuclear energy, which should be part of the solution to weaning the world from fossil fuels.
Much more must be done to reduce the enormous harm that humans are causing to the Earth. Inslee is a passionate and persistent advocate for the environment who should play an important role making this a top priority in the 2020 presidential race.