“We Are Facing an Existential Crisis”: Gov. Inslee Slams DNC for Refusing to Hold Climate Debate

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The Democratic National Committee is facing criticism after rejecting calls to host a debate solely focused on the climate crisis and for threatening to blacklist any candidate who takes part in a non-DNC debate on the issue. DNC Chair Tom Perez recently told climate activists that it is not practical to hold debates on specific issues. We speak with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who was the first Democratic presidential candidate to call for a climate-focused debate. He’s accusing the DNC of attempting to silence the voices of those who want to debate climate solutions. “This is our last chance to defeat climate change,” Inslee said. “We will not have another chance after the next administration. We will either act now, or it will be cataclysm.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Democratic National Committee is facing criticism after the committee rejected calls for the party to host a debate solely focused on the climate crisis. The DNC is also threatening to blacklist any candidate who takes part in a non-DNC debate on the issue. DNC Chair Tom Perez recently told climate activists that it is not practical to hold debates on specific issues. Washington Governor Jay Inslee was the first Democratic presidential candidate to call for a climate-focused debate. Last week, he accused the DNC of attempting to silence the voices of those who want to debate what he described as the, quote, “existential crisis of our time.”

AMY GOODMAN: USA Today reports a number of other Democratic candidates have since backed the call, including former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, former Obama Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, along with Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet. Meanwhile, more than 50 voting members of the Democratic National Committee have submitted a resolution supporting a climate debate.

Well, we’re joined right now by the man who called for this debate: Democratic presidential candidate, Washington Governor Jay Inslee. He launched his presidential campaign in March with a pledge to make defeating climate change his number one priority. Governor Inslee has also vowed to allow in a record number of refugees and to end President Trump’s Muslim travel ban. In 2017, Washington became the first state to file a lawsuit to challenge Trump’s initial travel ban.

Governor Inslee, welcome to Democracy Now!

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Thank you. Thanks for bringing a little democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s great to have you with us. So, your response to the DNC not only saying they will not hold a climate debate, but they will ban any presidential candidate from official debates if you engage in a nonofficial debate on this?

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Sounds a little unusual in a democracy, doesn’t it? And it is. Look, our party has to carry the torch of defeating climate change, and so far I’ve been carrying that torch amongst the candidates. And the reason is that this is our last chance to defeat climate change. It is an urgent matter. We will not have another chance after the next administration. We will either act now, or it will be cataclysm in our nation. And there is only one party that’s going to offer a solution to that, and our party needs to pick the right nominee who has the full vision and the full experience and the full plan to defeat climate change.

And the people need to see the candidates put forward their visions and plans. And if we don’t have a full debate on this, that’s going to be impossible. Look, you can’t say to a candidate, “How are you going to, you know, save the planet and totally mobilize the United States economy? And you have 60 seconds.” It’s just not adequate to the task. And that’s why people—I welcome people all over the country. Nine state chairs now are going to bring a resolution to require this debate. There’s about 50 members of the national committee, and thousands, literally tens of thousands, are bombarding the committee to have this debate.

Now, the additional outrage is to try to stifle and blacklist those who want to have the debate, to say you can’t have the debate in a different forum. That is not exactly democracy, with either a small or capital D, and that needs to change, as well. And so, I appreciate everyone telling the committee that we need to have this debate. It is the existential crisis. Now, I’ve got the experience and plan that will probably do pretty well on that debate stage, but it’s not about me. It’s about the people having access to make the right decision here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, since you don’t have to speak only in soundbites here, we would like you to expound on why you think, first of all, that climate change is the central issue of our time and some of the specifics about what your plan would do.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Well, I think this is a particularly special moment. It’s a moment of tremendous urgency, but it is also a moment of tremendous promise economically to be able to build a clean energy economy. And the moment of urgency is something I’ve experienced, in some sense, firsthand.

I was in Davenport, Iowa, a couple weeks ago and met a woman who had built a nonprofit that took care of single mothers and victims of domestic violence. She served about 1,500 people a year, women a year. Then the flood comes over the dike, destroys her nonprofit. She loses everything. Her nonprofit is now out of business, and you have 1,500 women left high and dry, so to speak. And when you watch that person crying about the loss of her vision and dream, you know that we’ve got to do something about climate change.

It’s Marcia Moss [phon.], a woman I met in Seminole Springs, whose mobile home was just a pile of aluminum, melted aluminum. This is an absolute trail of destruction across our country right now. And so, when Donald Trump says this is a Chinese hoax, no, these are real tears, and we have to prevent them.

On the upside, though, this is a tremendous promise of economic growth. Look, clean energy jobs today are growing twice as fast as the United States economy. We simply need an ignition, a spark, for this clean energy revolution to mobilize the United States around this mission statement. And I’ve seen that. I saw that with Kennedy in my youth, what a spark of inspiration can do. And I believe if we have that from the White House, we can mobilize this nation and build a clean energy economy. And it’s going to work. You know, Donald Trump says wind turbines cause cancer. We know they cause jobs. And I was just in Iowa the other day at the Des Moines Area Community College, talked to a young man named Dave, who was—I asked him: Why is he taking this wind turbine technician class? He says, “Well, it’s not exactly rocket science. These are the jobs of the future.” We need a president who actually understands that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But what are some of the key pillars of what your plan would do in terms of combating climate change?

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Number one, we have to get off coal. And this is just a certainty. And that is something you just have to do in the next decade. So, my plan, which is unique amongst all the candidates, would essentially eliminate coal-based electricity beginning 10 years from now. And that is a hard cap. It is a legally enforceable cap. It’s not a suggestion to the utilities; it is a requirement.

Second, we need to go to a fossil-free electrical grid by the middle of the next decade. And that’s necessary according to the science. And again, this would be a legally binding requirement on the utilities. And that’s necessary according to the science. You know, and one of the issues here is, you know, you can negotiate with Republicans, sometimes you can negotiate with your spouse; you cannot negotiate with physics or chemistry. We have to accomplish these goals.

Then, I would also—in the transportation sector, we have to have cars and buses that run on something other than gas and diesel in the next decade. That needs to be a requirement, as well. So, those are sort of three pillars, together with an investment strategy of about $300 billion a year, that’s going to create 8 million jobs. And these are good union jobs, by the way. We want to increase wages at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering if part of the reason that the Democratic National Committee came down so hard against your call for a climate debate is the kinds of issues it might raise. You were one of the first Democratic presidential candidates to sign a pledge to refuse any financial contributions from the fossil fuel interests. And this became a major issue with the Green New Deal, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said any congressmember who sat on a committee dealing with that should refuse fossil fuel money.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think they just don’t want that exposed and are concerned that their candidate may accept money from the fossil fuel industry?

GOV. JAY INSLEE: I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I’m refusing to accept that money and was the first to sign that pledge. I know that when they say it’s not practical to have a debate, I’ll tell you what’s not practical. What’s not practical is having your home underwater repeatedly because of the floods that are happening now repeatedly. I met people who have been flooded three times this year in the Midwest. It’s not practical to see a town of 25,000 burn down. And this is something that demands that we demand the candidates to all step forward and put their cards on the table, show what their plans are, show what their experience is. And I think that America and our party deserves that.

AMY GOODMAN: How does Green New Deal differ from your plan, called the Evergreen Economy Plan?

GOV. JAY INSLEE: They largely have the same goals. And I’m so appreciative of AOC and Ed Markey and the others who have now raised climate change in the profile. They’ve brought communities of color and poverty into the tent, and I think it’s been a really beneficial thing.

What I’ve done is I’ve added policy to assist that goal. And I kind of liken it—if you think of the Green New Deal as sort of Kennedy said we’re going to the moon, well, my plan designs the rocket ship. And it’s about 80 or 90 pages of policies that actually make this thing sing. And I think if people look at it, they’ll be quite impressed, as was Greenpeace, that ranked mine as the best, and AOC called it the gold standard, and Climate Advisers said it was the most robust plan.

So, by all accounts, I’m very proud of what we’ve proposed, because it’s got meat on the bone, and it’s got teeth. Look, you can’t go into this—you can’t solve climate change with a bumper sticker. You’ve got to have teeth to force these corporations to do the right thing. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re going to take away the $27 billion of subsidies that are now going to the oil and gas industry, that need to go into clean energy.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what that is. Most people are not aware of these subsidies.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Well, the oil and gas and coal industry have gigantic—this is $27 billion a year in tax subsidies, with dozens of little loopholes that they can walk through that no other industry has. They get below-market rates, royalties, if you will, when they take—when they mine fossil fuels off of our public lands. And the whole tax code is sort of set up as a giveaway, a slot machine for the fossil fuel industry. We need to reel those back and put investments into clean energy. There’s absolutely no reason to continue to subsidize really a mature industry in this regard.

Now, in this transition, we’ve got to take care of people and families who have been in these industries, as well. People who work in the coal mines are dedicated, hard-working people. They’ve built this country. And that’s why we need to embrace—what I’ve done is a transition plan to have a just transition for their families and their communities, as well as the communities of poverty who have been so often the first victims, the frontline communities of the climate change beast.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Governor, I wanted to ask you a little bit about your own record as governor on the issue of emissions. Between 2012 and 2015, Washington’s own emissions reportedly increased by about 6%. And you took office as governor in 2013. Why were you not able to, as governor in the state, lower emissions in your own state during that period?

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Well, I’ve only been able to implement a very small part of my agenda in the first four years. I had a Republican Senate. And unfortunately, my Republican Senate was in the same climate denial mode as the president. So I was unable to pass legislation for the first four years.

But we have now passed the best—probably the best suite of laws in the United States. I’ve passed the best 100% law, that requires 100% of our electricity to come from clean sources, non-fossil fuel sources. It is also the best because it embraces environmental justice in that plan, so that everyone can move forward, and we increase incomes, and we help people in poverty at the same time. It is also the best plan because, for the first time, it requires retrofitting of commercial buildings so we can reduce waste. It is the best because we have a good incentive package to help people get access to electric cars. It’s the best because we’ve joined other states in banning super pollutants.

So what we’ve done is we now—in the last three months, I’ve signed a suite of bills that’s going to get us about 80% to where we need to go of the goals we really need to get to. It’s amazing what democracy can do, as it did in the last election, which gave me one more senator so I can actually pass these laws. But we will not be done after this. We have to do more in my state. We have to do more around the world. We have to be more challenging of all of us.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you speak of non-fossil fuels, do you also see a need to expand nuclear power as a means of dealing with climate change or not?

GOV. JAY INSLEE: That remains to be seen, because I believe we have to look at every low- and zero-carbon emissions technologies to see if they’re possible. Nuclear, in order to become part of the portfolio, would have to solve four things it has not solved yet. It would have to become much more cost-effective. It’s just way too expensive right now. It would have to have a passively safe system. It would have to solve the waste stream issue. And it would have to build public acceptance. Those do not exist right now. But I do believe it makes sense for us to do the research and development to find out if some of these new approaches might be safe, cost-effective, and have public acceptance and no waste. That is worth doing, given the emergent nature of this problem, in my view.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your evolution around climate, coming to think of it as the critical issue of our day? You supported, until last month, the construction of two natural gas projects in western Washington, opposed by many climate activists, but then you reversed your position on that. Talk about why and what these projects involved.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: Well, I’ve been working on this for a long time. I actually ran for Congress in 1992 saying we had to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I co-authored a book about this in 2007. I joined Jerry Brown and Governor Cuomo in establishing the U.S. Climate Alliance in 2016. And we did that—we now have 24 states in this—because we wanted to show the rest of the world there’s intelligent life in the United States. And it’s been very successful in that regard. I sponsored and fought for legislation on many occasions in the U.S. Congress. So this has been a long journey, as you indicated.

The situation is, we were probably all hopeful that natural gas could be a bridge fuel to bridge the current situation and the development of non-fossil fuel systems. And we were hopeful that could be a bridge through the decades. Turns out the science does not allow that, because in the last couple of years the science has now shown we don’t have as much time as we thought. We do not have 'til late in the century to make that transition. We have to make it in the next decade and a half to really get going. And so, what we've learned is we have to eliminate fossil fuels by the middle of the next decade. That is scientifically certain. And there’s no—as I indicated, there’s no debating with scientists. You know, I’ve got 10,000 scientists who agree with me on this. And so, we just have to follow the science, and the scientists indicated we just can’t wait.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you say to President Trump, a proud climate change denier? His Energy Department just announced they’re not going to refer to methane as methane anymore, but they’re going to call it “freedom gas.” And as one energy official said in the department, “We are spreading molecules of freedom around the world.”

GOV. JAY INSLEE: What I would like—what I would say and like to say and, I believe, will say to President Trump is “goodbye.” And that is the only solution to this problem. Look, the things that I read about climate change coming out if this administration, sometimes I think they come out of The Onion. So, when you’re calling “freedom gas,” something that essentially that can, over time, destroy life as we know it, that can only be described as humor coming out of Dr. Strangelove. And I think somebody needs to make the equivalent of Dr. Strangelove about this administration and this subject.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. We’re going to continue with him in a minute.

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Gov. Jay Inslee on Climate Refugees, Tax Breaks for Boeing & Why He Feels Trump Is a Racist

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