Inslee’s climate plan (parts 1 & 2 thus far) flesh out the most real, just transition yet described, a Green New Deal

Inslee’s plan is at the very least going to substantially elevate the level of climate policy debate. This is policy made by a team that’s been sweating over the details for years, bringing a level of sophistication and experience that is much needed. – David Roberts, Vox

Daniel Kammen, a contributor to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which last year released a report warning that world governments must sharply reduce carbon emissions and shift toward renewable energy sources immediately, or the crisis will be irreversible by 2030—also praised Inslee’s plan.  “It is not only vital for our environment, but it is a recipe for more affordable housing and vibrant communities, good-paying jobs, corporate and municipal accountability, and global leadership for the United States,” Kammen told The Guardian.

Jay Inslee is one of 457 Democrats currently running for president in 2020. In such a crowded field, it’s hard to stand out. But he has separated himself from the pack with a bold plan that embraces clean energy and a zero carbon economy. He says his Evergreen Economy Plan will create 8 million clean tech jobs. He also says it will cost $9 trillion.  Gulp. That’s a really big number. At least it appears to be until you realize that the US has squandered $6 trillion on its ill-considered military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. And those are just the direct costs we know about. The follow-on from our bloodthirsty path of destruction is double or triple that amount. So which would you rather have, mountains of shattered bodies with nothing to show for it except a towering national debt or a country with a vibrant economy that is a global leader in addressing climate change?  “The Evergreen Economy Plan is built on the model that has led Washington state to become the fastest-growing economy in America — making historic investments in clean energy research and deployment, creating good jobs in 21st century manufacturing, building green transportation infrastructure, supporting modern job-training programs, raising wages, and protecting workers’ rights and families,” according to Inslee’s website. — Steve Hanley, Clean Technica

Inslee borrows an opening statement from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which said, “We are working toward a definite goal, which is to prevent the return of conditions which came very close to destroying what we call modern civilization.” He explains, “Today, America faces a new threat to our modern civilization — climate change. This challenge also presents an unprecedented economic opportunity to lead the world in building a clean energy future.”  Inslee says his Evergreen Economy Plan will promote “high-paying, high-skilled jobs building a stronger, healthier, more just, inclusive and sustainable future,” one that features more collective bargaining power for unions, new employment opportunities for the workers affected by the contraction of the fossil fuel industry, and gender pay equity.

Inslee’s Evergreen Economy Plan:

  • Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy: Governor Inslee will make historic investments as part of an unprecedented nationwide effort to deploy clean energy in every community in the country. This effort includes: establishing a ReBuild America Initiative to upgrade millions of buildings over the next two-plus decades; a $90 billion Green Bank for clean energy deployment; a Next Generation Rural Electrification Initiative; programs to support energy democracy and community-led energy transformation; and grants in lieu of tax incentives for clean energy installation. Collectively, this effort will massively increase clean energy deployment, create millions of jobs, and achieve the goals laid out in Governor Inslee’s 100% Clean Energy for America Plan.
  • Building Sustainable & Climate-Smart Infrastructure: Governor Inslee’s Evergreen Economy Plan makes the largest investment in American infrastructure in generations — creating sustainable transportation, water, affordable housing, sustainable communities, and smart grid systems. Governor Inslee will double investment in public transit, dramatically expand electric car-charging infrastructure, and launch a Clean Water for All Initiative to close the $82 billion annual funding gap in critical drinking water, stormwater and wastewater infrastructure. This plan for climate-safe infrastructure investment will put Americans to work in every community to achieve a state of good repair; protect public health; and improve resilience to devastating floods, droughts, fires, and storms.
  • Leading the World in Clean Manufacturing: The Evergreen Economy Plan creates incentives and programs to grow good American jobs and keep U.S. manufacturing on the cutting-edge of the 21st century global economy. Through Governor Inslee’s plan, the federal government will partner with industry to increase efficiency, cut costs and waste, and deploy new technologies and fuels to reduce climate pollution. That includes: making major investments in domestic manufacturing of electric vehicles and batteries; establishing a federal “Buy Clean” Program to help close the carbon loophole and support domestic industries and workers; creating a new Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit; and utilizing entities such as the Export-Import Bank to increase exports of made-in-America clean energy solutions. These initiatives will allow workers and businesses to revitalize America’s economic competitiveness in existing manufacturing industries, while taking the lead in emerging clean technologies and growth markets.
  • Investing in Innovation & Scientific Research: To defeat climate change and fully capture the clean energy opportunity of the 21st century, Governor Inslee’s plan also invests in transformative research and development in next-generation clean technology and climate solutions, and in scientific discovery and STEM education. Governor Inslee’s plan will increase U.S. clean energy and climate solutions research investment to $35 billion each year, more than 5 times the current funding. This investment boost will marshal the resources of the federal government, states, universities and private sector innovators to confront the climate challenge. The plan also supports innovation in the agricultural sector through a new ARPA-Ag effort and a Next Generation Rural Clean Energy Extension Service.
  • Ensuring Good Jobs with Family Supporting Wages & Benefits: Governor Inslee puts reinvestment in American workers at the heart of his plan to build an Evergreen Economy — ensuring high-paying, high-skilled jobs building a stronger, healthier, more just, inclusive and sustainable future. This plan will reunionize and empower workers in every industry with new tools to collectively bargain, challenge racial and gender inequality, and close the gap in wealth and prosperity. It includes: enacting a “G.I. Bill” for impacted fossil fuel workers and communities; repealing the Taft-Hartley Act provisions that allow so-called “Right-to-Work” laws; redoubling commitment to national apprenticeship programs and creating and enforcing protections for gender pay equity.

Daniel Kammen, who contributed to the IPCC 6 climate change report, has praise for the Inslee plan. “It is not only vital for our environment, but it is a recipe for more affordable housing and vibrant communities, good-paying jobs, corporate and municipal accountability, and global leadership for the United States.”

David Roberts, Vox, May 2019:  Jay Inslee’s Plan:  The One Democrats Should Be Adopting

Washington governor and presidential candidate Jay Inslee is out with his second package of climate policy proposals. It is dense, ambitious, and long. At 38 pages, it is longer, I would venture to guess, than the complete climate agenda of any other candidate, for any elected position in the US, maybe ever.

And it’s only part two! The campaign says at least three or four more rounds are coming. (I wrote about the first round here.)

Viewed in the context of the Democratic presidential primary, it all seems a bit like overkill. If Inslee wanted to make the point that he is the candidate best prepared to tackle climate change, I’m pretty sure he made it several thousand words ago. The bar, after all, is not particularly high. Beto has his plan, which is … fine. Biden promises a big speech soon. Warren has a few sectoral policies.

It’s not a crowded battlefield, and Inslee seems to have brought a nuke to a knife fight.

But I think there’s more going on here than campaigning, and more significance to the plan than how it might play in Iowa. To put it bluntly, Inslee’s campaign is writing a Green New Deal.

The problem with the discussion around the GND so far is that the only substance at the center of it is a non-binding resolution, a set of aspirations and goals. People have projected all sorts of things on it, good and bad, but no one really knows what the GND is. At least in nuts-and-bolts policy terms, there isn’t on yet. So it’s easy to dismiss the whole thing as a “green dream,” as Nancy Pelosi put it.

Inslee’s campaign is systematically translating the GND’s lofty goals — to decarbonize the economy sector by sector, in a way that creates high-quality jobs and protects frontline communities — into policy proposals, focused on an immediate 10-year mobilization. This isn’t just a campaign play, it’s a document the next Democratic president is going to want in-hand when the time comes to get to work. (And if that president needs some kind of climate czar …)

Student activists with the Sunrise Movement occupy Nancy Pelosi’s office to demand that she and the Democrats act on climate change

I’ll get into that more in a moment, but first let’s take a look at Inslee’s latest proposal: the “Evergreen Economy” plan.

An investment plan that would marshal $9 trillion over 10 years

The headline of the plan is investment: roughly $300 billion in public investment per year, which would leverage an additional $600 billion in private investment, adding up to a total of $9 trillion over 10 years. Inslee’s campaign claims the plan would create 8 million good jobs over the same time frame, by repealing anti-union right-to-work laws and linking federal tax incentives to job quality standards.

(Interesting side note: the campaign has not yet said how, or whether, it intends to include some mechanism to “pay for” all these investments. Carbon pricing fans are on the edge of their seats.)

The investments — meant, in part, to achieve the ambitious targets that Inslee laid out in his first round of policy — are divided into five areas. There’s no way I can begin to do them justice (again, 38 pages, each replete with itemized lists of policies), but let’s run through them quickly.

1. “Igniting America’s clean energy economy”

This would involve, among other things, a ReBuild America Initiative to upgrade existing buildings. (You will recall that Inslee’s last round of policy addressed new buildings; this is the other side of that coin.) It targets energy retrofits for 4 percent of existing residential and commercial buildings a year, each year for 25 years, eventually upgrading 100 percent.

The campaign calls the initiative a “win-win-win-win” that will “reduce pollution; save customers on their energy bills; put millions of construction workers, electricians, and mechanical contractors to work; ​and result in a large economic boon for local businesses and domestic manufacturers​.​”

In case you’re wondering about the details, there are six sub-policies underneath that get into the nitty gritty (utility on-bill financing, woo!).

Alongside the ReBuild America Initiative are a range of other programs meant to accelerate and spread clean-energy-led economic development to every area of the country. They include:

  • a $90 billion Green Bank for clean energy deployment
  • a Next Generation Rural Electrification Initiative
  • programs to support energy democracy and community-led energy transformation
  • grants in lieu of tax incentives for clean energy installation

And, yes, each of those has many sub-policies.

2. “Building sustainable & climate-smart infrastructure”

The plan would direct roughly $3 trillion of investment over the next 10 years to a large-scale upgrade of America’s crumbling infrastructure.

The infrastructure investments would go to five areas:

  • sustainable transportation, including more than doubling federal investment in public transit, electrifying passenger and freight rail, and giving out matching federal grants for local EV charging infrastructure;
  • transmission and grid modernization, including new tax credits for transmission lines, matching federal grants for smart grid upgrades, and focusing FERC on expanding and upgrading transmission lines;
  • clean water, including a Clean Water For All initiative to rebuild water infrastructure, improvements in coastal and inland water management, and more funding for “chronically under-resourced” federal agencies overseeing water issues;
  • smart growth, affordable housing, public schools, and community development, which includes a whole laundry list of nerdy stuff that I love, mainly because it focuses on funding and expanding existing programs (e.g., the “HUD-EPA-USDOT Sustainable Communities Initiative”);
  • public lands and green spaces, including forest and ecosystem restoration, wildlife and marine conservation, wetlands, and other lands-y stuff.
smart grid

3. “Leading the world in clean manufacturing”

These investments, about $2 trillion in public and private money over the next decade, are targeted at building up the US domestic clean-energy manufacturing economy. There are five key elements here.

  1. Policies aimed at bolstering advanced manufacturing, including skills training, tax credits, and a Quadrennial Industrial Review​ (​QIR) to identify which industrial policies are working and which are not.
  2. A federal “buy clean” program that would put the government’s considerable purchasing power to use in driving down emissions and bolstering domestic industries.
  3. Policies targeting “super-pollutants” like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and methane, which have severe short-term climate impacts.
  4. A “top runner” program for industrial efficiency and carbon-intensity standards, which would steadily increase standards over time as the industry average improved, without further intervention from lawmakers.
  5. The fifth is a series of policies focused on clean-energy exports and global trade, meant to ensure that US trade deals and institutions like the Export-Import Bank are aligned around the clean energy transition.

4. “Investing in innovation and scientific research”

The plan would increase federal funding for clean energy R&D to $35 billion a year over the next decade (roughly five times current funding), expanding existing programs like ARPA-E, partnering with state research institutions, and targeting hard-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy.

It would also establish an ARPA-ag program focused in innovations in agriculture, a whole series of programs focused on sustainable transportation, and another series focused on reducing industrial emissions. This latter effort would involve “transforming the DOE Office of Fossil Energy into the Office of Industrial Decarbonization,” a notion I find quite satisfying.

It would invest in federal climate science, focused on risks and impacts, attempting to undo some of the grievous damage of the Trump years.

And finally, it would invest in “climate literacy and STEM education,” a series of interesting proposals including “a student loan debt-forgiveness program for graduates entering clean energy, sustainability, and climate science-related jobs in the non-profit and public sectors,” along with a boost in STEM programs focused on minorities and Historically Black Colleges and a boost in “school-to-work pipelines” like apprenticeship programs.


5. “Ensuring good union jobs with family supporting wages and benefits​”

The headline here is a “G.I. Bill” for workers and communities impacted by the transition away from coal. It would secure their retirement benefits (which coal companies often try to avoid paying), vouchsafe their health care coverage, and offer education and job training stipends.

It would also create a “Re-Power Fund” to invest in communities impacted by changes in the fossil fuel economy and a “Restoration Fund” to invest in hiring local workers for environmental remediation and reconstruction.

Alongside the G.I. Bill, the plan would strengthen organizing and bargaining rights for workers with a whole range of reforms, including “repealing the provisions of the federal Taft-Hartley Act that permit so-called ‘right-to-work’ (RTW) laws in states.”

It would also tie all of the federal investments described above to community benefit agreements (which ensure that investments benefit locals through things like affordable housing and job training assistance), project labor agreements (which ensure fair wages), and prevailing wage laws (“by extending Davis-Bacon Act requirements to all federally funded projects”).

It would make a series of investments and reforms in skills-training and apprenticeship programs and create a “Climate Corps” program to give young people skills and experience in climate and clean-energy fields.

It would boost wages in a number of ways, first by raising the federal minimum wage and pegging it to inflation, but also by creating a “federal clean energy wage” of $25 per hour, the minimum that can be paid to “skilled workers for clean energy jobs created and supported with federal funds.” And then there are a whole series of reforms to protect “compensation transparency and worker mobility.”


This is what a Green New Deal looks like

Believe it or not, that was the short summary. And like I said, that’s only one piece of the puzzle. The campaign promises future policy proposals on “advancing environmental justice; supporting rural communities and sustainable, thriving American agriculture; ensuring resilient communities and disaster recovery; ending all manner of fossil fuel giveaways; and protecting public lands.”

I am a policy glutton, and even I am daunted by this buffet.

But this is what it looks like when the Green New Deal’s aspirations become concrete policy proposals. It’s a lot!

Inslee’s Climate Mission agenda does not tick all the Green New Deal boxes. It doesn’t target economy-wide decarbonization by 2030 (no campaign will, or could). It doesn’t have a federal job guarantee or universal healthcare. It’s not the whole socialist enchilada.

But it is getting at the most important stuff. It has aggressive decarbonization targets, sector-by-sector policies and a massive array of public investments designed to achieve them, and a focus on high-quality jobs and vulnerable communities. It is a vision of climate policy as progressive and expansive as we are likely to see our current political circumstances.

And best of all, it is not a green dream. It identifies the programs and mechanisms required to achieve its goals. Many of them already exist in some form, in federal programs and agencies. Many others have been tried and tested at the state level. (Inslee’s team contains several veterans of state-level fights.)

I get that this will never happen, but if you’re Harris, or Buttigieg, or Booker, or … what’s his name? Swalwell? … why not just say, “Jay is this party’s climate star. I’m impressed with the thought he’s put into this plan, I support it, and if I’m elected I’ll bring him into my administration to help implement it.” Hell, all of them could say that.

I get that they want to distinguish themselves from one another, but they have other ways to do that, issues they have more personal stake and experience in. Climate is not their main thing. It’s Inslee’s main thing. Why not just embrace a good plan that’s there to be embraced?

It would be a way to get second-hand benefit from Inslee’s reputation on climate change, using it to improve the whole party’s image and expertise on the issue. Democratic voters may not care enough about climate (yet) to make Inslee the candidate, but I bet they care enough about it to appreciate seeing his agenda elevated by the other candidates.

Different candidates could focus on different parts: the strengthening of unions, the protections for impacted and vulnerable communities, the help for rural and agricultural communities, the cities and public-transit policies, or the investments in research and innovation. It overlaps with several other progressive priorities; it is flexible and expansive enough to integrate with other progressive platforms.

Who knows how the 2020 Congressional races will turn out. Much of Inslee’s plan would require help from Congress, but not all of it would. It is a policy menu, with enough choices that there will be something suitable to hand wherever and whenever windows of possibility open. Democrats would be smart to use it as a blueprint.