Jay Inslee released a sweeping $9 trillion economic plan Thursday to create 8 million jobs, revitalize the labor movement and rapidly cut planet-warming gases, propelling the Washington governor far out ahead on the Green New Deal at least nine of his rival 2020 presidential candidates vowed to enact.
The 38-page Evergreen Economy Plan promises at least 8 million jobs over 10 years, and offers the most detailed policy vision yet for mobilizing the entire United States economy to stave off catastrophic global warming and prepare for already inevitable temperature rise.
The proposal lays out a five-pronged strategy to launch an unprecedented deployment of renewable energy, fortify the nation’s infrastructure to cope with climate change, spur a clean-tech manufacturing boom, increase federal research funding fivefold and level income inequality by repealing anti-union laws and enacting new rules to close the racial and gender pay gaps. By spending $300 billion per year, the plan projects another $600 billion in annual economic activity generated by its mandates.
“The thing that can really cost is the path of inaction, the path of letting Paradise, California, keep burning down, the path of letting Davenport, Iowa, keep flooding, the path of letting Miami be inundated,” Inslee told HuffPost by phone on Wednesday. “It’s too expensive, besides being too deadly.”
The breadth is stunning, with few problems left untouched. The plan includes specifics on everything from national parks to drinking water, “ultra-high-speed” rail to electric scooters, climate literacy education to a new Climate Conservation Corps. The proposal spells out exactly how an Inslee administration would expand collective bargaining rights and bolster wage growth in ways unseen since the threat of communist revolution loomed large in the minds of America’s elites a lifetime ago.
Socialism it is not. Like President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom Inslee cites in the introduction to the nearly 15,000-word economic manifesto, the governor, in the face of surging inequality and ecological disaster, toes the line between heavy-handed central planning with pro-worker protections and embrace of private enterprise.
At a moment when Joe Biden, the ostensible frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and by any measure an economically conservative Democrat, is taking heat for teasing a “middle ground” climate policy that allows for more fossil fuel use, Inslee’s plan seems to offer a scientifically sound middle ground between an increasingly alluring Marxist approach to climate change and the Obama-era neoliberal regulatory regime scientists say dooms humanity to cataclysmic warming.
It’s a formidable document, and an audacious rebuke of skeptics who say policy to cut emissions is at odds with economic prosperity. The proposal stakes out positions on labor and rural development as bold as those on the environment. It also cements Inslee’s place alongside Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as a presidential contender whose unabashedly progressive values and wonkish policy chops merit serious consideration in an increasingly crowded race.
“Half measures just will not cut it here,” Inslee said. “We didn’t win half of World War II, we had to win all of it.”
Inslee, 68, shies away from the Green New Deal slogan that emerged six months ago as the first framework to match the scope of the climate crisis. But, in practice, the blandly-named Evergreen Economy Plan is the closest thing yet to the World War II-style economic mobilization the Green New Deal promises. The second major proposal from the Inslee campaign, it builds on the the 100% clean energy blueprint released earlier this month, outlining a pathway to all but eliminate emissions from power plants, cars and new buildings by 2030.
The plan covers the basics, with ramped-up tax incentives and loans for renewables, requirements for federal agencies to use 100% renewable electricity and zero-emissions vehicles by 2024. It opens with a call for a ReBuild America initiative that would set a national energy efficiency standards for utilities, offer refundable tax credits for building upgrades like HVAC systems and solar-powered water heaters and set up a program with labor unions to train “green supers.” The initiative would provide financing for low-income households looking to invest in energy efficiency retrofits and directly fund upgrades to public institutions like schools and government buildings.
It proposes spending $90 billion to found the Clean Energy Deployment Authority, a so-called green bank that would provide low-cost loans and loan guarantees to underinvested projects. The CEDA would be an independent, nonprofit institution designed to work directly with clean energy funds in states.
Following decades of deindustrialization that hollowed out rural communities, the proposal calls for the most comprehensive investment since the New Deal, largely by beefing up agencies and programs first established in the 1930s. It would increase the budget and lending power of the Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and regional development and electricity providers like the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority. It would also beef up agencies like the Rural Utilities Service to fund renewables projects and build more broadband infrastructure to expand high-speed internet access.
It isn’t a plea for entirely centrally planned energy production alone. The plan allots $150 billion over 10 years to invest in community-owned energy cooperatives, with the aim of generating 10% of the nation’s power from them by 2040. The initiative, designated under the Energy Department, would set up Energy Districts modeled both on the New Deal-era Soil Conservation Districts and projects like the Winneshiek Energy District in Iowa.
Inslee promises to more than double annual federal investment in public transit systems and invest in electrifying passenger and freight rail. The plan calls for billions in federal matching funds to states, tribes and local governments to deploy charging equipment for electric vehicles and buses, and committing to halting emissions from airplanes at 2020 levels.
To improve electricity transmission, the plan proposes new federal matching dollars for states, utilities and local governments to build new grid infrastructure and expanding the list of equipment the Federal Emergency Management Agency is authorized to give, making it easier to erect clean-powered microgrids.
Water is the centerpiece of the infrastructure section of the plan. The proposal devotes billions to rebuilding drinking water, wastewater and stormwater facilities, and ramping up federal funding to protect coastal property from sea-level rise, improve infrastructure along the Mississippi River and support “chronically under-resourced programs like the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture ― in particular the Bureau of Reclamation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.”
The plan lays out incentives for sustainably built low-income housing and increased funding for public housing. It also promises funding and studies to reduce asthma triggers and lead exposure in public schools.
“It’s a doozy. It’s extremely thorough.”
Public lands are another key point. Inslee proposes ramping up funding for the Forest Service to deal with wildfires and woodland management and clearing the backlog of public lands projects. While it doesn’t give specific dollar amounts, the plan expands the budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and gives the USDA “a leading role” in overseeing ecosystem restoration.
The core of Inslee’s plan to bolster manufacturing would be through agency actions. It would establish a new, uncapped tax credit for advanced energy manufacturing, and propose legislation to Congress to provide “massive investment” into domestic manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles and component parts to battery technologies. That would include tripling the loan budget under the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program and setting up a new “clean cars for clunkers” program. It would order the Department of Commerce to conduct a Quadrennial Industrial Review “to map strategic industries and identify sound industrial policies — including critical materials and rare-earth elements, global demands, and domestic production capacities.” The proposal also would enact a federal “buy clean” program.
The plan proposes new regulations on super-pollutant hydrofluorocarbons, known as HFCs, and methane. Inslee vowed to phase out HFCs through an executive action, enact new rules requiring oil and gas companies and utilities to find and halt methane leaks in pipelines and direct agencies to implement new standards for carbon intensity of domestic manufacturing.
The manufacturing section touches on trade policy to increase exports of American-made clean technology and rework existing deals to curb climate pollution and pressure other countries to do the same.
“It will be a primary goal of the Inslee Administration to accelerate and feed those projects with American-made clean energy exports that displace fossil fuel infrastructure,” the plan states.
Inslee pledged to increase federal research and development of clean technologies by approximately $35 billion over the next decade. The plan calls for establishing new initiatives in transportation and climate science research and “growing existing programs at the DOE, such as the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Office of Science, and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), as well as National Labs.” The proposal includes launching “ARPA-Ag,” an entirely new program to research soil-based carbon storage techniques and reducing emissions from farms.
The plan goes beyond research to increase public school education on climate change and ramp up funding for science, technology, engineering and math programs at historically black colleges and universities.
The Evergreen Economy Plan’s labor proposals are among the most likely aspects to garner popular support.
The proposal calls for a $15 federal minimum wage by 2024 and national paid sick leave. It also proposes repealing the federal Taft-Hartley Act that permitted 27 states to pass right-to-work laws limiting workers’ collective bargaining power. “Eliminating these laws will ensure that everyone who benefits from union representation pays their fair share of that representation,” the proposal reads. The plan also promises to amend the National Labor Relations Act to make it easier to form a union by automatically recognizing a collective bargaining unit when a majority of workers vote or sign cards approving its creation. Inslee pledged to enact or push Congress to pass new rules making it easier to share pay and benefits information during collective bargaining, a move meant to increase pay equity for women and people of color. He also vowed to appoint pro-union members to the National Labor Relations Board.
The plan outlines a “G.I. Bill” for coal communities and workers impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels. Modeled on the program that provides assistance to veterans and their families, the bill would secure miners’ pensions, provide health care to workers suffering with black lung, and offer training through unions to transition workers into new industries. It also establishes a “Restoration Fund” that fossil fuel companies will be required to pay into to “create new skilled union jobs in environmental reconstruction.”
The plan sets new standards for apprenticeship programs and calls for the creation of a Climate Conservation Corps to carry out restoration work across the nation and train a new generation of workers with environmental regenerative skills.
“It’s a doozy,” said Evan Weber, political director at Sunrise Movement, the grassroots group pushing for a Green New Deal. “It’s extremely thorough.”
Republicans, who routinely smear the Green New Deal with false claims it’d ban cows and flights and even trigger genocide against white men, are likely to dismiss Inslee’s plan as socialism. Yet the plan makes no calls to nationalize industries, as some in the climate movement are beginning to entertain, nor does it embrace the federal job guarantee proponents of the Green New Deal. Inslee, moreover, is quick to tout the leading role for private industry under his proposal, which is largely dependent on generous market incentives.
“It’s a combination of public investment, which succeeded when we went to the moon and defeated fascism, and it leverages and partners with private entrepreneurs and skilled workers,” Inslee said.
If anything, Inslee’s technocratic approach opens the plan to criticism from the left. Inslee has drawn criticism for defending corporate giants headquartered in his state, including Amazon, Boeing and Microsoft, at a time when rivals like Warren are calling for increased antitrust enforcement to break up big tech companies.
“We’re seeing massive private companies leading this revolution today,” Inslee said. “If you don’t get that, you’re just willfully ignorant.”
So far, the only other 2020 contender to put out a comprehensive climate plan was Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman. O’Rourke’s $5 trillion plan promises to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 ― a problem, say advocates, because emissions from developing countries are surging, and an industrialized nation like the United States should aim instead for 2030. Warren on Wednesday put out a plan to make the U.S. military carbon neutral by 2030, and previously proposed a blueprint for halting all fossil fuel leasing on public lands and dramatically increasing the federal acreage available to renewables. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is embracing the Green New Deal fully, and is expected to introduce some kind of legislation in the coming months.
Inslee is still far behind, polling at less than 1%. In an April writeup of Inslee’s CNN town hall, the environmental newswire E&E News scoffed at the governor “pleading” for more supporters in an attempt “to save his candidacy.”
Climate change is surging to the top of Democratic voters’ concerns. A March Gallup poll found 81% of self-described liberals, 77% of Democrats and 53% of independents reported feeling “highly worried” about global warming. Monmouth University’s poll of Iowa Democratic voters last month found the issue was second-most important after health care. In April, a CNN poll pegged climate change as a top issue for 82% of registered Democrats planning to vote in the 2020 presidential primary.
Inslee’s lengthy record on climate change, including enacting a suite of new policies in Washington and writing a book on the issue over a decade ago, bolster his bona fides. So, too, does his dual experience as a former legislator and executive, something few others in a field crammed with senators can boast. But, while single-issue campaigns rarely go far in presidential races, Inslee’s real advantage may be his laser focus on an issue of unprecedented scope and import. Last month, he began publicly urging his rivals to back his call for a climate-only Democratic debate. Now he said he wants his competitors to try to top his climate proposal.
“I hope others will follow my leadership,” Inslee said. “So far, nobody’s joined me, and I hope they will.”