Jay Inslee Just Dropped His $9 Trillion Plan to Fight Climate Change by Rebuilding the Entire Country

Photo: AP

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has staked his entire presidential campaign on being the country’s first climate candidate. And on Thursday, he released the second plank of his climate change platform.

While the first provided a set of goals, the new addition lays out a vision for how to achieve them through $9 trillion in federal and private spending over the next decade. But look closer and you’ll see it’s really a vision for bringing citizens together in a way where everyone has a chance to succeed—if it could ever pass our currently divided Congress, that is. And if Republicans’ stiff resistance to the Green New Deal is any indicator that’s going to be an extra heavy lift even were Inslee to end up in the White House.

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“An overarching key thing here is there isn’t any other choice but to go as hard and fast this stuff as possible because that’s the only way we’re going to succeed, and without doing it, very little else is going to matter in due time,” an Inslee staffer told Earther.

The new plan, dubbed the Evergreen Economy Plan in a nod to Inslee’s home state of Washington, chronicles his vision for how to get the economy humming on 100 percent clean energy by 2030 and to net-zero emissions by 2045 at the latest. It borrows from his accomplishments at Washington like a recently passed clean energy bill, as well as dozens of other sources in a meticulously footnoted 38-page document.

“This plan is straight up like a Masters thesis,” Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Earther in an email. “And he’s not even DONE yet.”

The plan calls for $3 trillion dollars in federal money to be earmarked for climate endeavors over the next decade, an amount Stokes pointed out was equivalent to half the U.S. military budget. That outlay would spur $6 trillion in private investments, according to the plan. In that regard, it’s similar to but more ambitious than Beto O’Rourke’s $5 trillion climate change plan. But Inslee’s plan goes into much more detail about how that money would be spent.

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Chief among the priorities are a $3 trillion investment in the country’s infrastructure. Yes, Infrastructure Week has become a punchline, but it’s also something the U.S. really needs. American infrastructure can barely hold up against our current climate let alone one where oceans are higher and more violent, heat waves are more extreme, and downpours dump more rain.

The plan calls for doubling the federal investment in public transit, expanding high speed rail, improving access to clean drinking water, and protection from storm surge and inland flooding. If that wasn’t enough, it also calls for other huge, structural changes. The plan would decarbonize the government first from buildings to transportation, a move that could drop the cost of zero carbon technologies for the general public due the sheer size of the government. Take cars, for example. Costa Samaras, the director of Carnegie Mellon’s Center for Engineering and Resilience for Climate Adaptation, told Earther federal, state, and local governments have millions of vehicles.

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“Requiring fleet vehicles to be mostly electric vehicles is one way to drive EV adoption [for the rest of the country],” he said. “It’s one big lever they could pull relatively easily.”

Beyond the “easy” lifts, the plan also aims to make headway on the toughest parts of the economy to decarbonize. Those include air and marine transport, manufacturing, and agriculture. On the latter, the plan lays out ARPA-Ag, a homage to the Department of Defense’s DARPA program and the similarly modeled ARPA-E at the Department of Energy. DARPA is responsible for a wealth of technology innovations like the internet. ARPA-Ag would take the model of moonshot innovation investments and apply it to agriculture, which is both tough to decarbonize and also holds the potential to be a huge solution to climate change by helping sequester carbon. Scientists know we’ll need those agriculture-based solutions to have any hope of keeping warming below catastrophic levels, but the breakthroughs are still waiting to happen.

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“There’s a real gap between what we could do in the ag space—which is still considerable—and what we know we’re going to need to do to decarbonize,” the Inslee campaign official said. He said ARPA-Ag would help kickstart that process.

So that’s all the stuff that has to happen, but who benefits? At the end of the day, the vision sure seems to be everyone. The plan specifically calls for strengthening unions, including repealing the federal act that allows for “right to work” laws that favor large corporations. It also has strong callouts to indigenous and front line communities who have been screwed over for decades, forced to breathe toxic air and give up their homelands. And it holds a place for fossil fuel workers by putting forth what it calls “G.I. Bill” for them that would pay out their pensions, fully fund the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund by holding coal companies who are supposed to pay into it accountable, and ensure a just transition. And it would reinvigorate the Rural Utility Service, a New Deal era project that lit up rural America, with a focus on renewables and community scale energy.

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Samaras said that he wasn’t endorsing the plan but that that type of focus would be crucial “to reduce damages and inequality and improve American competitiveness.”

Vox’s Ezra Klein made the case for Inslee’s candidacy a few days ago, noting he’s the only candidate to treat climate change for what it is: “the overriding emergency of our age.” But his candidacy and his evolving platform also reveals that we have the policy tools we need, we just need to adjust them to start fixing climate change and with it, structural inequalities. Yes, yes Inslee would still need to get all this through a possibly divided government. But like the Green New Deal, it shows what’s possible. 

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That also means it will almost surely meet the same reception as the Green New Deal, which has been hailed by progressives and become the subject of a Republican disinformation campaign in an effort to sink it. Inslee’s plan would run into the same headwinds if his long shot bid landed him in the White House unless Democrats win the Senate. Despite that, it still serves an important purpose by putting forth a robust vision and showing how much the U.S. has to do to address its carbon pollution.

“It’s ambitious, and quite frankly, probably necessary given the scale of the crisis and the time we have spent procrastinating on the problem,” Stokes. said. “We have now spent more than 30 years delaying action on climate change. Inslee’s plan recognizes that we will need to make up for lost time. And the scale of its spending reflects that.”

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