RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state says combating climate change is the defining challenge of our time - so much so that he is framing his entire presidential campaign around it. I spoke with the governor as part of our Opening Arguments series with 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, and I asked Inslee why he believes combating climate change can get him all the way to the White House.
JAY INSLEE: People are increasingly sympathetic because they're understanding. They're watching Paradise, Calif., burn to the ground. They're watching the Midwest be inundated by floods. They're watching Miami Beach having to spend taxpayer money building up the roads because of inundation. And it is the reality and the science that is convincing people rather than just rhetoric or ideology. And that is moving very, very dramatically. And this is the existential threat, and it does call for a president to make this job one because if it is not job one, it won't get done. We have to understand, if we don't solve the climate crisis, it will prevent us from dealing with all of our other hopes and challenges.
MARTIN: You point to your experience as the governor of Washington as evidence that you can make this happen, that you can push policies to combat climate change - big ones. But that has been a hard slog for you in the state. You have had a recent victory, but in 2018, you tried to pass a carbon tax, and you didn't even get unanimous support from Democrats. What did you learn from that 2018 loss?
INSLEE: I learned that the most important renewable fuel in America is the power of perseverance. And we persevered, and we now have won. What I've also learned - and this is very important - is that a pricing system on carbon is not the only game in town. There are multiple tools in the tool box. There are many policies that we can adopt. We've seen them work in other jurisdictions and other nations, and now we've put them in place in the state of Washington.
And my state, I believe, is a template for success for the United States in our climate policies, as well as all the other progressive things we have done. And we have shown that we have developed the best economy in the United States with the fastest GDP growth and the fastest wage growth not despite the fact that we're embracing clean energy but because we are embracing clean energy. But we're not done yet. There's more to do.
MARTIN: So let's talk about what you would do as the occupant of the Oval Office. Your current proposal focuses on changes in the future - so new emission standards for cars and buildings, for example. But do you have a plan to deal with all the vehicles that are currently on the road that are currently contributing to America's gross emissions?
INSLEE: Yes. Those cars are going to be replaced by vehicles that don't use fossil fuels, largely electric. In our buildings, we're doing what I have already done in Washington, which is retrofitting existing commercial buildings, and that starts in 2030. In my plan...
MARTIN: So all this takes a while. It does - it's going to take a while.
INSLEE: Of course, of course. I mean, we're not going to shut down the U.S. economy tomorrow at noon. We're going to have a rational transition, and the pace is driven by science. Now we've got a president who says that wind turbines cause cancer. He's wrong. They cause jobs. And I've had a vision for this that now is coming to pass, and we know that because clean energy jobs today are growing twice as fast as the U.S. economy. And these are not jobs for physicists necessarily. They're jobs for carpenters and laborers and machinists.
MARTIN: Are they jobs for coal miners?
INSLEE: Not in the decades to come. We have to realize that we're going to have to wean ourself off of coal, and we have to have a transition plan for the very dedicated, hardworking people who have been in the mines for generations.
MARTIN: What is that? I mean, everyone talks about retraining, but what does that actually mean? How much does it cost?
INSLEE: I'll give you a real-world example. And so in Centralia, Wash., we have the last coal-fired plant. We have reached a community agreement to close it in the next few years. In doing so, we've created a $55 million fund that will help with the families and retraining education. It will also help build jobs because training is not enough. You have to have a job.
MARTIN: Where's the money going to come from?
INSLEE: It will come in the form of a combination of investment - and we know these investments grow jobs over time and will minimize the economic loss that will otherwise be associated with the climate crisis.
MARTIN: I just want to complete that thought. You said, it's going to be a combination of private investment and higher taxes?
INSLEE: Not necessarily because we have something that I think we need to do in any event, which is to remove the giant subsidies from the oil and gas companies. We need to repeal the majority of the Trump tax cuts, which went to the upper, you know, income brackets - rather than working people - and did not produce jobs. So simply having some reform like that is what makes sense.
MARTIN: There are people who would say, yes, let's do this, and I will do my part. But there are Republicans and some Democrats who would not be so keen on having to pay any kind of higher tax in order to offset the costs of these climate proposals. Can you tell us now that you would absolutely not ask the American taxpayer to pay some of the burden here?
INSLEE: Well, of course not. Nobody who is going to run for office can make any statement about the future like that, and they're responsible if they do. But what I can say is that the majority of the investment will be private, in part because it will be required. Much of our plan does not involve public investment directly. It is a requirement that the public utilities get off fossil fuels. It is a requirement that the auto industry provide cars for us that don't pollute anymore.
By the way, this is a health issue, too. This is just not an economic issue - 10,000 to 15,000 more people die of pollution from automobiles today than in car crashes. This is a national security issue. People say this is a single issue. This is all of these issues. And so these are investments that the vast majority are going to come from the private sector and private companies, not from the government. But the government does have a role, as it did when we went to the moon, as it did when we defeated fascism. And we're calling for an appropriate public investment to do that.
Now, you mentioned Republicans. The sad fact is, at the moment, that we're going to have to find a way to get this done without them because right now, we still have not seen the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt. We're seeing the spirit of Mitch McConnell, who will kill any climate change bill in its cradle if he has a chance. And that means we have to get rid of the filibuster. We have to prevent Mitch McConnell from stopping climate change. We have to let majority vote - one person, one vote - be the Democratic rule in the U.S. Senate. I'm the first candidate to say that. I hope others will follow so that we can get progress in this.
MARTIN: Is that a unifying message, though, in these divisive times?
INSLEE: Yes, it is unifying because everyone - Republicans and Democrats - have an interest in not letting America catch fire. So everyone is going to benefit from this.
MARTIN: Jay Inslee is the governor of Washington and the latest Democratic presidential contender to give us his opening argument.