Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday released his presidential campaign’s ambitious blueprint for combating climate change, including a 2030 ban on the sale of new cars, light trucks and buses powered by gasoline, diesel or natural gas.
The plan relies heavily on federal regulatory action to swiftly transition the U.S. away from fossil fuels in the transportation, electricity and building sectors. It calls for a phaseout of coal-fired power plants by 2030, with zero-emission energy by 2035, and new construction standards to eliminate carbon pollution from new commercial and residential buildings.
As the 2020 election season unfolds, Democrats are eager to draw a stark contrast with the policies of President Donald Trump, who has disparaged the science behind climate change, sought to unravel Obama-era policies to reduce carbon emissions and announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement that seeks to limit the overall global temperature increase to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by the century’s end.
Inslee said his plan is meant to match the scale and pace of action scientists have warned is required to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of global warming.
“It brings scientific reality because it’s based on that scientific reality that we have to build a clean-energy future to save ourselves and our kids,” Inslee said in an phone interview Thursday from California. “We are a can-do country. We need a can-do president and a can-do plan.”
The announcement also seeks to garner attention for Inslee’s struggling presidential campaign, promoting an aggressive national climate agenda he says is based on proven successes in his own state, including a recently passed 100% clean-energy law.
“We can take what we have done in Washington and make it a template for the nation,” he said.
Inslee is scheduled to formally announce his proposals Friday morning in downtown Los Angeles, joined by Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Scientists have tagged carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels as the major driver of climate change. Inslee’s proposal seeks to commit the U.S. to achieving net-zero emissions by 2045 — five years before the midcentury target in a $5 trillion climate plan released earlier this week by Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman also running for president.
Inslee’s eight-page plan notably makes no mention of what once was a central part of his climate agenda in Washington — charging a tax or otherwise putting a price on fossil-fuel pollution. Inslee spent years pushing for such measures, but was rebuffed repeatedly by the Legislature, and state voters rejected two carbon-pricing initiatives.
His shift away from carbon pricing comes as some other Democratic presidential candidates have embraced the idea, including Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. Some oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, also have supported some form of carbon tax.
Since his official entry into the race on March 1, Inslee has run his longshot campaign as a climate hawk, saying he’d make fighting global warming the No. 1 focus of the nation if elected. That message so far has not elevated Inslee in the polls, as national- and state-level polling show him consistently near the bottom of what has grown into a 21-candidate Democratic field.
Inslee’s national agenda would seek to go beyond what the governor has accomplished in his own state, even with substantial Democratic majorities in the Legislature.
The governor notched significant wins in the recently ended legislative session, including a clean-power bill phasing fossils fuels out of electricity generation by 2045 and new building and appliance standards.
Lawmakers also approved an Inslee-backed bill to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a “super pollutant” chemical used in aerosols and refrigeration, as well as a package of incentives, tax exemptions and funding designed to encourage the use of electric vehicles.
He is expected to sign some of those measures into law Tuesday in Seattle.
But Inslee also had setbacks, including defeat of a clean-fuels standard intended to lower greenhouse-gas emissions from car and truck tailpipes.
Similar standards are in effect in California and Oregon. Inslee, in his new plan, proposes taking the idea national to help reduce carbon emissions from older vehicles that would still be on the road in 2030, even if his proposed ban on new fossil-fuel vehicles were to take effect.
But the Washington state bill faced strong opposition from oil companies and other industry groups, and failed to clear the Senate. State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, who sponsored that proposal, said, “I don’t think we made meaningful progress reducing greenhouse gases” related to transportation.
The failure of that proposal leaves Washington short of reaching greenhouse-gas reduction targets set in state law by 2035, according to the Inslee administration’s own projections.
Inslee also failed to gain passage of another part of his state climate-change agenda, a bill that would have tied Washington to California’s motor-vehicle standards intended to increase the availability of a wide-range of electric cars and other zero-emission vehicles.
Under the legislation, automakers would earn credits by selling electric or other zero-emission vehicles. By 2025, those credits would have to equal about 8% of the vehicles delivered for sale in Washington. But the proposal ran into a buzz saw of opposition from automobile manufacturers and their allies.
Inslee’s advisers say the national zero emission vehicle standard included in his campaign plan would help keep U.S. automakers competitive in a century when other nations will be moving away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles.
Inslee’s plan also includes other proposals to speed up a shift to electric vehicles, such as a “cash for clunkers” program to encourage car owners to trade in gas or diesel-powered vehicles, and a massive investment in electric vehicle charging networks.
The plan released Friday is the first in a series of climate proposals Inslee will roll out in the coming weeks, including plans for federal investments to hasten clean-energy development.
Inslee’s climate advocacy goes back to his days in Congress, when he co-authored a 2007 book, “Apollo’s Fire,” that advocated a clean-energy revolution that could unify the country much like NASA’s Apollo spaceflight project, which arose out of President John F. Kennedy’s pledge to put a man on the moon.
Among the Inslee advisers who helped to put together his latest climate proposal is Bracken Hendricks, a longtime clean-energy expert and CEO of a clean-power financing and development company, Urban Ingenuity.
Seattle Times staff reporter Heidi Groover contributed to this report.