Outgoing Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on his climate record

Source: By Brady Dennis, Washington Post • Posted: Sunday, May 7, 2023

Jay Inslee has forced other Democrats to embrace climate action more urgently

When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced this week he would not seek a fourth term in 2024, he listed multiple accomplishments he was proud of over the past decade. But atop that list, he said, was that his state had adopted “the nation’s best climate policies.”

Inslee’s relentless focus on climate change has influenced not just his native Washington, but also policies in D.C. in recent years. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Inslee’s ambitious climate proposals and outspokenness about the need to move away from fossil fuels forced other Democratic candidates to embrace the issue with more urgency.

President Biden’s climate policies have incorporated parts of Inslee’s plan. Inslee’s former staffers have gone on to work for the White House and to form the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action.

The Washington Post spoke with Inslee on Wednesday about his role helping to shape state and national climate policies, how he plans to keep pushing for more aggressive action after leaving office, and why his focus on slowing Earth’s warming is as much personal as professional.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

WP: How do you think you and Washington state have led on climate in tangible ways, and what impact do you think you’ve had on the national picture?

Inslee: First off, I think our state has been incredibly dynamic in developing a clean-energy future. Today, I’m in the Tri-Cities, which has been a nuclear site where we’ve been doing cleanup for decades now. And now this community is going from clean up to clean energy. And that’s happening in every community in my state. If people look at Washington, they can get a boost of confidence and optimism that we can actually build a clean-energy economy in a timely fashion.

I signed seven more bills today focused on accelerating the ability to site clean-energy projects and transmission projects, and to embrace climate goals in our local land-use planning, and to develop the climate corps to train people for all of these new jobs. Literally, while I was driving to this [today], I got a call from one of my fellow governors asking about all this. There’s nothing more gratifying [than] when you have other governors asking how we are getting these jobs done.

WP: Your push for aggressive climate action was in the national spotlight in 2020during your presidential campaign. I wonder how you think that you were able to help shape the policies that the current administration adopted and also things like the Inflation Reduction Act?

Inslee: I am so delighted at President Biden’s leadership on this. Pulling the rabbit out of the hat on the Inflation Reduction Act was a miracle of modern democracy and is going to power so many jobs in my state.

I do think he went through some metamorphosis. He called me yesterday to note my going to some new climate adventure other than governor. And he told me, “What you did did have an impact on some of my thinking.” And I’ve frankly never had a larger accolade than that.

I think that his grasp of the economic potential of this has been enormously successful. I do think he did when I watched the development of his plans, I do think they did crystallize for whatever reason, and our nation has been extremely benefited by that.

WP: Are there ways you think the Biden administration has fallen short, or maybe that Washington in general has fallen short?

Inslee: I will answer that question. But before I answer it, I want to tell you what I think are central challenges right now in this movement. I think we need to focus on messages of confidence and optimism and a can-do spirit. And here’s the reason I say that: Despair is just deadly. We know how challenging all of the climatic problems are that are now unfortunately baked into the environment. But we need to start every conversation with saying, “We can do this.”

Having said this, the good news is we can go faster even than Congress has gone. And fortunately, we have a federal system where states can go faster than the federal government. So my state is now going faster than Congress in developing a cap-and-invest program, which has generated billions of dollars. And putting the low-carbon fuel standard in place. And the thing I’m most proud of most recently is we’re the first state in the nation to effectively wean ourselves off fossil gas installations in our businesses and homes by requiring every new construction starting next year to use a heat pump.

Look, we’ve got to pedal faster. We are in a grand race for the survival of life as we know it.

You can read Brady’s full report here.

Senate approves measure to reinstate tariffs on solar panels

The Senate voted yesterday 56-41 to undo a two-year pause of tariffs on solar panels assembled in four Southeast Asian countries, requiring U.S. companies to pay nearly $1 billion in retroactive fees. 

The GOP-led measure was prompted by a government finding that Chinese companies are circumventing U.S. trade rules by exporting solar cells out of Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Nine Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), John Fetterman (Pa.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) — defected from their party and voted in support of resuming tariffs. Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) was the sole member of his caucus to vote against the measure.

It comes as the Biden administration is balancing efforts to limit dependence on China with mitigating climate change. Meanwhile, growing anti-China fervor is scrambling traditional political alliances and unnerving America’s clean-energy sector.

“The attempt to impose punitive retroactive tariffs on U.S. companies would harm American workers and once again cede ground to China and other nations,” American Clean Power Association chief executive Jason Grumet said in a statement. “Congress should work to protect existing clean energy jobs, not undermine a growing American industry that is harnessing abundant domestic resources.”

The Congressional Review Act resolution was approved by the House last week, and Biden has said that he will veto it. A two-thirds majority of lawmakers in both chambers would be needed to override his veto. Wednesday’s vote was a rare bipartisan snub of the president’s energy and environmental policies.

EPA drafts first-ever water quality standard for tribes

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday proposed baseline water quality standards for waterways on tribal lands, granting the waters of over 250 tribes the same protections as most others in the United States, according to a news release.

If enacted, the new Clean Water Act regulations would for the first time set pollution limits on 76,000 miles of rivers and streams and 1.9 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and other bodies of water. They’ll requirement clean up of areas where more than 500,000 people fish and swim until tribes adopt their own water standards under the law. Wednesday’s proposal does not apply to drinking water.

“Establishing federal baseline water quality standards, and implementing them in consultation with Tribal governments, will help support Tribes’ interests in protecting and improving waters that are essential to thriving communities, vibrant ecosystems, and sustainable economic growth,” EPA Administrator Michael Regansaid in a statement.

N.Y. ditches gas stoves, fossil fuels in new buildings in first statewide ban in U.S.

New York has become the first state in the nation to pass a law banning natural gas hookups and other fossil fuels in most new buildings, setting the stage for a renewed fight over states’ authority to ban fossil fuels outright rather than encouraging developers to build low-carbon buildings, The Post’s Anna Phillipsreports. 

The law, which was passed by the New York legislature late Tuesday as part of the $229 billion state budget, requires all-electric heating and cooking in new buildings under seven stories by 2026, and in 2029 for taller buildings.

Although the law allows exemptions for manufacturing facilities, restaurants, hospitals and carwashes, it will probably face legal challenges from the fossil fuel industry, which sees the action as government overreach that will increase costs for consumers.

It comes as municipalities across the country impose bans on gas-burning stoves and furnaces in new construction, sparking partisan fears over the future of gas. A federal appeals court already struck down Berkeley, Calif.’s first-in-the-nation gas ban.