Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democratic presidential candidate who has dedicated his entire campaign to addressing the climate crisis, unveiled his first major policy proposal Friday morning. The ambitious plan charts a course other presidential contenders may follow as climate change becomes a top issue for the crowded primary field.
Calling climate change “the defining challenge of our time” in a statement, Inslee described his proposal as “a bold and aggressive national policy” to slash greenhouse gas emissions and dramatically shift the electrical grid. The 100% Clean Energy for America Plan aims to achieve 100% carbon-neutral electricity, 100% zero-emission new vehicles, and 100% zero-carbon new buildings — all within the next 11 years. The transportation, buildings, and electricity sectors contribute nearly 70% of the nation’s climate pollution.
With more components slated to be released in the coming weeks, Inslee is proposing a “bold 10-year mobilization” to achieve net-zero emissions while creating jobs and bolstering the economy. An alarming report released last fall by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that the world has only a little over a decade before crossing a dangerous threshold of global warming likely to spark unprecedented impacts. That report has been a rallying cry for climate activists and serves as the backbone of Inslee’s new plan.
“To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the global community must cut climate pollution in half by 2030, and achieve global net-zero pollution by midcentury,” the plan states, citing the IPCC findings.
The IPCC emphasizes the need for zeroing out emissions by mid-century, but climate advocates have debated the timeline for that undertaking, with some pushing for 2030 as the deadline. The Green New Deal resolution introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) does not establish a specific timeframe for reaching net-zero emissions but cites the IPCC report and calls for a “10-year national mobilization” to address climate change.
Inslee’s plan sets a goal of zero emissions from all light-and-medium duty vehicles and buses by 2030, with the same standard for new commercial and residential buildings. It would also establish a 100% Clean Electricity Standard during that timeframe, with a target of completely clean and renewable electricity generation nationwide by 2035. The United States more broadly would then be on track to hit a net-zero emissions target by 2045 at the latest.
As a lawmaker in Washington state, Inslee has long advocated for climate action, with mixed success. An intensive carbon pricing ballot initiative backed by the governor failed in 2018, for instance — proponents of the effort say broad grassroots support failed to counter the millions of dollars fossil fuel companies devoted to opposing the measure.
Last month, however, the state successfully passed an ambitious bill to achieve 100% clean electricity. Inslee’s new climate plan leans into these transformations underway at the city and state level across the country, where lawmakers are forging ahead with climate action as the Trump administration has stalled.
“We know we can achieve this plan because it’s already happening in states, and in cities, tribal nations, and local communities,” the proposal argues, pointing to policies in California, New Mexico, and Washington, D.C., among others.
Other components of the plan include a pledge to support workers and communities impacted by the shift away from fossil fuels, introducing tax incentives for renewable electricity and other energy components, and retiring the U.S. coal fleet in the next 11 years. Federal lands, waters, and facilities would also be used to propel renewable energy growth; consumers would meanwhile be encouraged to trade in fuel-inefficient vehicles for new, zero-emission models.
According to Inslee’s plan, some components could be implemented using executive authorities and programs already in place, while others would require new legislation. The proposal notes that the various initiatives would receive federal financial backing but does not give an estimated cost.
The Inslee campaign provided ThinkProgress with a list of backers supporting the proposal, including former government officials like Jon Wellinghoff, who served as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) until 2013, along with climate activists and private sector clean energy advocates.
While Inslee is the only candidate dedicating his campaign to climate action, he isn’t the first Democratic contender to release a policy proposal to address the crisis. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Cory Booker (NJ) have released their own, smaller proposals already — Warren’s emphasizes rebutting fossil fuels and protecting public lands, while Booker’s centers on environmental justice. And former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX) unveiled his own sweeping plan earlier this week, which would invest trillions of dollars in an intensive effort to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.
O’Rourke’s plan won praise from many environmental groups and scientists, but some critiqued the timeline. The youth-led Sunrise Movement, which played a pivotal role in shaping the Green New Deal resolution, initially panned O’Rourke’s plan and called for a much shorter timeframe to reach net-zero emissions. Sunrise also highlighted O’Rourke’s failure to take the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, which bars candidates from receiving donations from political action groups, executives, and similar entities affiliated with fossil fuels.
After some back-and-forth this week, O’Rourke agreed to sign the pledge (his second time doing so after initially reneging on it over a disagreement about worker donations), while Sunrise softened its criticism. Varshini Prakash, Sunrise’s executive director, praised the plan as “a great start” and said she hoped other candidates would follow suit.
Inslee’s campaign also knocked O’Rourke’s plan after its release, pointing to the congressman’s mixed record. While O’Rourke has historically received endorsements and support from environmental groups, he has also come under scrutiny for a 2016 offshore drilling vote, along with the dust-up over donations from fossil fuel industry workers.
“Climate change will be the top issue in this primary, and it’s good news that Democratic candidates are putting forward ideas on the issue,” Inslee said on Monday. “But, voters have a right to look closely at Democratic candidates’ plans to separate rhetoric from results on climate change.”