The Energy 202: Jay Inslee is out of the 2020 race. But his presence remains.

Source: By Dino Grandoni, Washington Post • Posted: Friday, September 6, 2019

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee participating in the Democratic debate back in July. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Jay Inslee had a great night during CNN’s climate forum. Even though he wasn’t there.

During the network’s seven whole hours of discussion of climate change Wednesday evening, at least four Democratic candidates for president glowingly name-checked the Washington governor, who last month dropped out of the race.

Inslee had been polling so low before stopping his campaign that he stood little chance of qualifying for the forum. But the ideas the self-branded climate candidate brought to the race, as well as the enthusiasm with which he addressed the issue, have been adopted by a number of his former 2020 rivals.

Julián Castro, the former housing and urban development secretary, heaped praise onto the two-term governor, who is now seeking reelection in Washington. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke warmly of Inslee when mentioning one of his suggestions for regular people to reduce emissions — washing clothes in cold water.

And California Sen. Kamala Harris borrowed a joke Inslee made at a previous debate — that wind turbines don’t cause cancer, as Trump has falsely contended. They spark jobs.

“I’m going to steal a line from Jay Inslee,” Harris warned before delivering the retort.

Most significantly, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren explicitly adopted parts of Inslee’s lengthy climate plan as her own on the eve of the debate, including a 10-year plan to eliminate heat-trapping emissions from power plants, vehicles and buildings, as well as an additional $1 trillion in spending to make that move.

“He said, ‘Have at them,’ ” Warren said of Inslee’s plans. “They’re open-sourced.”

Inslee first made a name for himself nationally by trying twice to pass a ballot initiative in Washington state to create the nation’s first carbon tax, which many economists praise as an economically efficient way of discouraging the release of the heat-trapping pollution.

But in a sign of just how difficult it is to pass climate legislation viewed as costly by taxpayers, voters rejected Inslee’s initiatives both times.

Whether or not they mentioned Inslee, candidates at the CNN forum often spoke frankly about how difficult it would be to eliminate the nation’s carbon footprint.

“This is the hardest thing we will have done in my lifetime as a country,” said Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind. “On par with winning World War II.”

He added: “Maybe more challenging than that.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker drove home that point, too. If elected, he said, “I’m going to ask more of you than any other president in your lifetime.”

Pushed by Inslee and other progressives in the field, including Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the 10 participants each staked out positions far to the left of what even the Obama administration sought on climate change.

Harris and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, for example, reiterated calls for a complete ban on leasing federal lands and waters for fossil-fuel extraction. Businessman and candidate Andrew Yang said the Paris accords — President Obama’s signature climate achievement, under which more than 190 nations volunteered to cut emissions — “didn’t go far enough.” The Trump administration has withdrawn the nation from the global agreement.

With the broadcast punctuated with updates on the torrential rain and wind Hurricane Dorian is delivering to the East Coast, the CNN forum did bring into relief the differences between the candidates when the hosts and audience members drilled down on the details.

Castro, Klobuchar and former vice president Joe Biden defended their opposition to a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to extract otherwise hard-to-reach natural gas. Though still a carbon-based fuel, natural gas emits less CO2 into the air than oil and coal in order to produce the same amount of energy.

“I see natural gas as a transitional fuel, it is better than oil, but it’s not nearly as good as wind and solar,” Klobuchar said. Biden, meanwhile, suggested he doesn’t think there are enough votes “to get it done” in Congress.

Biden was also grilled by an audience member about a fundraiser for him Thursday hosted by a co-founder, Andrew Goldman, of a natural gas company Western LNG, even after promising to not take money from fossil-fuel executives. Biden said Goldman wasn’t an executive at the company. But the ex-senator added that if it turns out Goldman is still involved with the company, he wouldn’t “in any way accept his help.”

Harris, meanwhile, staked out a new position on fracking. Whereas in 2016 she was “very skeptical of fracking,” during the CNN town hall Harris clearly said  she would seek to ban it outright.

“There is no question I am in favor of banning fracking,” Harris said.

And while in the past the California Democrat has said he felt “conflicted” about maintaining the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster to pass most legislation, Harris pledged to try to strike down the procedure if needed to pass a Green New Deal.

Sanders defended the size of his $16.3 trillion climate plan, as well as his opposition to keeping nuclear power plants open — even though they produce more than half of the nation’s carbon-free electricity, citing the risk of disasters such as meltdowns and the difficulty of storing nuclear waste.

“We got a heck of a lot of nuclear waste,” he said.