The plan calls for zero-emission futures in three sectors of the economy — transportation, electricity, and residential and commercial buildings — that in 2017 accounted for nearly 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
By 2030, Inslee wants all new cars, trucks and buses to be “zero-emissions,” relying instead on battery power or renewable fuels. He also wants utilities to be weaned off coal — which produced 28 percent of American energy last year — and for new buildings to be built in a more energy-efficient way.
“Those goals are scientifically necessary and are absolutely required if we’re going to protect our families and country from the ravages of climate change,” Inslee said in an interview. “These are concrete actions. They’re not ephemeral. These are not unicorns and rainbows.”
During Inslee’s campaign, he has toured flood damage in the Midwest and visited wildfire survivors in California, as well as made stops to highlight solar power and electric cars. He was expected to announce the climate policy in Los Angeles.
The eight-page plan is aimed at raising Inslee’s profile and setting him apart from his rivals with a point-by-point plan that draws on his success passing climate legislation in his home state.
In the past presidential election, climate change received little attention. This time, amid worsening wildfires and floods, the issue has gained more traction, energizing Democrats and young voters, such as those who call for the Green New Deal.
Inslee’s team hopes that enthusiasm, as well as momentum from the climate bills, could help lift his polling numbers early in the campaign. So far, he has lagged behind at about 1 percent in national polls in a crowded Democratic field.
In a sign of the difficulty he faces, Inslee was preempted by former congressman Beto O’Rourke, another Democratic presidential hopeful. On Monday, O’Rourke declared climate change “the greatest threat we face” and put out his own climate plan as he toured Yosemite National Park.
O’Rourke proposed spending $5 trillion over the next decade and set a goal of reducing carbon emissions to net zero over the next 30 years.
Inslee has described O’Rourke as a newcomer to the issue and someone who once allied with oil companies in his native Texas.
“I welcome anybody following my leadership,” Inslee said. “Even if you discover climate change late, it’s better late than never.”
His plan, he said, has “much more specificity. It is much more robust. It is much more comprehensive. And I’ll get it done.”
O’Rourke said Wednesday that he will not accept campaign donations of more than $200 from executives of fossil fuel companies, joining a pledge signed by Inslee and other Democratic candidates.
Inslee has spent much of his long political career — 15 years in Congress, starting in the early 1990s, before becoming governor six years ago — talking about the dangers of climate change and urging a transition of the U.S. economy to cleaner sources of energy. He co-wrote a book on the topic, “Apollo’s Fire,” more than a decade ago.
Washington state relies heavily on hydroelectric power; coal accounts for about 15 percent of the state’s energy, much of it imported. The state’s lone coal-fired power plant is scheduled to close in coming years.
Many note that meeting these clean-energy goals will be more difficult in other parts of the country. Although coal-powered electricity has declined steadily over the past decade, it still produces the second-most electricity of any source, behind natural gas.
Inslee’s political opponents in Washington state who have opposed his pro-climate push warn of rising gas prices and lost jobs.
“A lot of these policies they push will simply drive the means of manufacturing out of state or offshore,” said state Sen. Doug Ericksen (R), a Trump supporter. “We’re still going to use gasoline. We’re still going to use many of these products, but if you make it too expensive to manufacture them, you create a tax structure that forces them out, that just means you’re going to import them from China, India, Taiwan.”
Supporters, however, say the goals and timelines Inslee set are ambitious but not unrealistic. The movement to more energy-efficient buildings, electric cars and utility companies is taking place in many states across the country.
“These are in some ways the things we have the highest confidence we’re able to do because we’re already doing them,” said KC Golden, a longtime climate and energy advocate in the Pacific Northwest who has known Inslee for many years.
“The governor obviously has made a very strong commitment to responding to what climate scientists say we have to do to avert catastrophic climate change,” Golden added. “Those timelines are not negotiable. If we think that it’s unrealistic to live on a planet that is in constant cascading climate chaos, then we have to accelerate our timelines for making this green energy transition.”
Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, said the economic transition that Inslee is calling for is “both realistic and necessary, and it will save money and create jobs.”