Election 2020 Series with Jay Inslee: The U.S. Role in Global Climate Action

Wednesday, June 5, 2019
Don Pollard
Jay Inslee

Candidate, 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination; Governor, State of Washington

Cynthia McFadden

Senior Legal and Investigative Correspondent, NBC News

Governor Inslee discusses international climate policy and U.S. leadership in global climate action.

MCFADDEN: Good morning, everyone. If you don’t have a seat, I would urge you to find one. 

Welcome to the members of the Council on Foreign Relations. I’ve done this a couple times over the years, but this is the first time I have presided as a member. So if I screw it up, Mr. Haass tells me he will raise my dues, so I’ll try not to. 

It is a pleasure. My name is Cynthia McFadden. I’m the senior investigative and legal correspondent at NBC News, and it is a pleasure to be here with you this morning to really kick off the first in a series of interviews with the candidates who are running for president, all 217. 

The first—the first among equals is the governor of the great state of Washington, Jay Inslee. He has been governor of the state since 2013. His staff likes to say that he is the only person running for president who both voted for Obamacare and then implemented it in his state, so there’s lots to talk about there, no doubt. 

And two small facts. I know you all have his bio, so I won’t dwell on that, but two small facts that I think are interesting. One, he illustrates children’s books in his spare time, which is a noble cause. Has three grandchildren. 

And I think the other is that, as you know, his passion for climate change comes very—from a very deep place. As a boy his father was a science teacher if I’m not incorrect. 

So it is a great pleasure to welcome the governor here this morning. We will try to ask the most probative questions. The agenda for the morning is this. The governor will speak for ten minutes or so. I’ll then ask him a few questions for about fifteen minutes or so. And then we will open it up to the members of the Council for questions. We will get you promptly out of the room at 9:00. 

So, without further ado, Governor? (Applause.) 

INSLEE: Good morning. This is a delightful morning for many reasons. We certainly have an important talk—topic to talk about this morning. 

And I just want to start my comments by telling you that this is a moment of personal vindication for me that I delight in because forty-seven years ago today I was in Stockholm, Sweden, on a University of Washington research project studying energy and the environment and the relationship between those two things, and now that particular day has been chosen by the United Nations as World Environment Day. And I was there studying, and I remember a moment when I’d been there some period of time enjoying the delights of Sweden, and I wasn’t really towing my part of the research project to some degree, and my professor was being a little bit critical of me. I was enjoying a little too much Swedish meatballs and Swedish beer than my research part of the work. And Professor Todd (sp) of the University of Washington took me aside and said, Jay, you’re slacking off here. At this rate you’re going to—you’re going to go nowhere fast. You really don’t have much of a future. And I looked at him in the eye and said, you know, with all due respect, Professor Todd (sp), I appreciate your opinion, but the day will come when I address the Council on Foreign Relations as a candidate for president of the United States. (Laughter.) And here I am. So I appreciate a chance to join you. 

I’m going to talk about a full mobilization of the United States which intends to save us from the demon of the climate crisis. And my comments and my passion on this subject is built on four pillars that I think undergird the proposal I have for the United States on sort of four principles. 

Number one, the principle that we need to expand our powers of imagination in dealing with this problem. And the reason I say that is that we have not really used our imagination to understand how dire this threat is. And there’s a book called The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells that I would encourage you to take a look at because it had an insight in it that was profound, which is that we have blinded ourself with sort of rose-colored glasses about this problem of climate change because we’ve all decided under the Paris Agreement we’re going to limit things to two degrees temperature increase, and we have blinded ourself to think that because we have said that things can never get worse than what’s going to happen at two degrees. Well, in fact, the situation is we are going to roar past two degrees unless we reinvigorate the international effort in this regard. And so when you look at the consequences of those results, what we think of as a modest problem that we can solve with a little higher levies and a little more forest-fire fighting and building up the roads another two feet in Miami Beach instead is a problem that results in large swaths of the Earth literally becoming uninhabitable. So we need to use our imagination to understand the nature of this challenge. 

Second, I believe that we should use our power of confidence in Americans to solve this problem. I was on a stage with the author of this book in New Hampshire a couple weeks ago and somebody asked, how do you get up in the morning? You have this understanding of how dire this problem is; how do you get through the day? And he says, no, no, you don’t understand my book. My book is one based on optimism and confidence, which seems a little oxymoron. And he said, what you need to understand is this is a problem that is within our control. It’s the right kind of problem to have. It’s within our destiny to control. And Americans have always led the world. We’ve led the world in the most innovative culture and economy in world history, and this is within our control. That’s the right kind of challenge to have. 

Third, this is based on the idea of total commitment, and we have to adopt a foreign policy apparatus, goals, prioritization, strategy, and relationships that is totally committed to this effort. And I liken it to 1948 if we had not listened to Winston Churchill when he warned us about the Iron Curtain in that speech in Missouri—had we not listened to him and made a total commitment to address the forces of communism, what could have happened. This is a moment for total mobilization, both of the United States economy and our foreign policy apparatus. And I’ll talk about how to do that in a minute. 

Fourth principle, to think about when Lincoln said as our case is new, so we must think anew. And I think that’s important because the things we’re going to talk about are revolutionary. They are both necessary and they are also productive in the United States economy. 

So those are the four underlying principles to make sure that we solve this problem. 

Now, I want to let you know in the shadow of willful ignorance coming out of the White House—by the way, I just got to get this off my chest right away. Wind turbines do not cause cancer; they cause jobs. I want to make this clear. And I was in Iowa talking to a kid named David who’s looking forward to a career in wind turbine technician, the second-most rapidly growing job in America. The young folks get this. 

And by the way, is Alexandria here? Somebody told me Alexandria is here. Alexandria Villaseñor, you will find her on a park bench in front of the U.N. every Friday. She’s leading the nation in the climate strike of students. It is her generation that is creating a moral demand on my generation to not degrade the Earth. Can we give a round of applause for her leadership? And her mother is here. (Applause.) 

So I do believe that what is clear is that this is the defining challenge of our time. If anyone thinks of us a hundred years from now, we will be judged on this issue. We know about the Greatest Generation. What title will we be given? And I think it is up to us to answer that question in the next several years. 

So I am calling for a new approach to foreign relations, one you might call a global climate mobilization, because nothing else is up to the task that faces this. I believe that defeating climate change must become the organizing principle of our entire foreign policy thought process. It cannot be think as one of the things on our to-do list; it has to be the organizing principle for the next administration of the United States. And I would intend to make it job one not the first day, but every day, because I’m convinced that if it’s not job one it won’t get done. We all know how much political capital it takes to get something done in D.C., and we have to make it the top priority. And I am the candidate—so far the only candidate for president of the United States—who has basically said this, that it has to be the top priority of our effort. 

So I have put forward—proposed twenty-seven separate policy initiatives that you might think of as a full-court press to address this issue and build the international economy. And it only starts—and I want to make this point—it only starts with making sure that we do not leave the Paris Agreement. Obviously, we have not left, as you know. It only starts with that. That is, like, table stakes into the discussion, because we know the Paris Agreement is, frankly, woefully inadequate to the science, and the science demands us to accelerate our efforts dramatically to get this job done. 

And we start this foreign policy—and I think this is an important point—I start my foreign policy right here in good old America, because if we are going to lead the nation we cannot lead without leading right here domestically. So I start the policy with saying that we have a hundred percent clean-energy plan, a massive ten-year action agenda for the United States which will accomplish an end to coal use by 2030. We need a stop sign on coal, and I am the candidate saying that. We will move towards a 100 percent fossil-fuel electrical grid by 2035. We will leverage $9 trillion in investment to grow eight million jobs. We will stop selling cars that burn just gas and diesel beginning in the year 2030. 

Now, these goals and statements are not a wish list; they are just scientifically required. And you can negotiate with Republicans on occasion. I got huge things done on a bipartisan basis in my state. You can negotiate with your spouse on occasion. But you cannot negotiate with the laws of physics, and these are simply things that we have to achieve, and we’re capable of doing so. 

And most importantly, it is necessary if we’re going to assume our leadership role in the world. There is no way that you can convince your neighbor to mow their grass if it bugs you that their grass is too long until you mow your own. And while we live under the shadow of Donald Trump, it debilitates our ability to lead. Now we must lead domestically so that we can lead internationally, and that is the first thing that we have to do. 

So here’s some highlights of the mobilization plan. It sort of has four tenets: First, restoring America’s international leadership; second, promoting resilience, justice, and stability—and the word “justice” is important here; third, setting climate and labor standards in our trade agreements; fourth, driving investment to deploy clean energy; and fifth, taking on fossil fuels to create accountability in climate. 

So I’ve talked about how we have to start with Paris. That’s just table stakes, but now we have to put some chips on the table on the first day of the new administration. And what I would do is make a commitment to the world that the United States is going to cut its emissions by 50 percent by 2030. That advances the cause of Paris within the Paris framework, but gives the world the sure knowledge that the United States is going to lead on this issue. And we have to hope and make demands, if you will, that others will join us once we have made that moral commitment. And I’m the candidate who is making that commitment today. We know that to do that we are going to have to end the promotion of fossil fuels, and this is one of the most insidious things that goes on today. 

Now, I’m going to mention China but not to in some sense single them out, except for their massive dimensions in the international economy, because they’re not the only party in this regard. We know that China is doing some significant investment in clean energy domestically. We know that they recognize that air quality in Beijing is a threat to the stability of that nation. And when you talk to leaders in China they’ll tell you that’s the thing that they actually might lose the most sleep over. So they are taking dramatic action to reduce some of their carbon emissions domestically. But unfortunately, under the Belt and Road provision, they are not exporting coal around the world. And we have to use every single policy available to reengage China to stop those investments on a(n) international level, which is every bit as dangerous. 

And that’s the thing we need to do first, which is to stop investment in these massive fossil-fuel industries. And that includes putting that as a condition of our aid. That includes embedding this in our trade policy. That includes adopting a border-adjustment carbon fee so that countries that are not recognizing that central scientific premise will have some condition on access to our markets. 

Second—and this is not talked about enough, I don’t believe—we have to attack super pollutants. Super pollutants—methane, hydrofluorocarbons—we don’t talk about them because they live under the shadow of carbon dioxide, but they are deadly, and they don’t call them super pollutants for nothing. Their consequences are dramatic. So we do have to immediately submit the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. We have to lead by increasing domestic manufacturing of thirty thousand jobs, which are possible, which will increase exports in these associated industries by $5 billion and lead on super pollutants. We know methane is eighty-six times more potent than carbon dioxide. And that is one of the reasons we have to wean ourself off of natural gas over time, because methane is a super pollutant that we have to deal with. 

Now, how to do this? I know we’re all scratching our heads wondering about that. But I would take an old baseball metaphor of moneyball. So you remember, moneyball is the idea that you don’t try to draft just one huge homerun hitter. If you can’t afford that, you draft three doubles hitters. And I think that’s how we have to think about our multiple strategies and tactics to make these things happen. 

So we have to look at embracing—and this is why I talked about this as being an organizing principle—to organize it throughout our relationships, not just when—on the ones that are related to climate change. You think about the Arctic Council, where today we have huge destruction of the poles because of climate change, and yet we have a president who’s refused to join the rest of the world in dealing with the Arctic. Here is a sort of below-the-radar-screen forum, and we have to be aggressive and a leader in the Arctic, one of the ways we need to deal with this. 

Third thing, we need to think both from a national security and a humanitarian aspect when it comes to the mass migrations that we will be experiencing because of climate change. And we know that we have mass migrations coming our way. The World Bank has predicted there will be 140 million people on the move in the next several decades, by mid-century, who would be climate change refugees. We know—we saw it in the Horn of Africa, that destabilized these governments. We know that mass migration has caused enormous political conflict in Europe. And today we are seeing climate migration on our southern border as these Guatemalan farmers—subsistence farmers—literally are starving to death because they can’t grow their crops anymore because the climate is changing. We need to address this by adding our name to the list of those who will work through this convention to find a solution to this problem. 

By the way, this is not—this is a matter of national security. We know the Pentagon and CIA have said that. But it is a matter of American values as well. We’re based on immigration and diversity. These are people we welcome. And I do want to tell you, I’ve done a lot of things in public life, but one of the things I’m proudest of, I was the first governor to stand up against the Muslim ban, and I’m proud of what I did on that. I’m the first governor who says we welcome Syrian refugees. And when Donald Trump tried to threaten me, saying, hey, if you don’t do exactly what I want to tell you I’m going to send immigrants and refugees to your state, I said bring them in; they help build my state. That threat did not work very well for Donald Trump. (Laughs.) So we need to deal on a humanitarian basis. 

Next plank in my plan is to mobilize global financial community. And we need to triple our preexisting commitments to the green bank. But it’s really important to realize that the vast majority of capital for this international development is going to come from the private sector, and we’re going to leverage and create the standards to drive this investment. The vast bulk will not come from the public sector; it’ll come from the private sector responding to our market signals for a new revolution in a post-carbon world. 

We want to also get to questions, so I’m going to close via a quote that I think captures the sentiment of the moment by Kennedy, when he said: “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.” And I think that quote captures the emotional content of what joins us all across the world. 

And a lot of people think of the climate change issue as a matter of anxiety and depression. I look at it as a matter of confidence of the most innovative people in the world being able to build a post-carbon economy. We are the most innovative—we create, we invent, we build. That’s what we do. And we also believe we’re united with the peoples of the world. 

And when you think about this from a historical context, the world has never been potentially so united. There’s really never, ever been anything in world history that we all share in every single one of our boroughs and towns and countries, other than this crisis. And we can see this as a new step forward for civilization, and this could be the most unifying thing we’ve ever done as a species. And as Churchill said when they asked him, well, how are you assured of victory, he said because without victory there is no survival. It is the only option. So I remain confident in our ability to do this, and I remain confident that you will give me some brilliant ideas how to effectuate my plans. Thanks very much. (Applause.) 

MCFADDEN: OK. Thank you very much. Well, you’ve given us a lot to chew on. Let’s start this way: Last night President Trump was interviewed by Piers Morgan and he said he was just shocked, amazed that Price Charles cared so much about climate change. After all, he was a prince and he didn’t need to worry about the future like that. So it’s a serious question. There are those, including the president of this country, who are climate change deniers. Is it worth having the debate with them, the scientific debate with them? Or do you just skip over them and go to the people who believe? 

INSLEE: Well, first off, a lot more people, despite the constant lies—and, by the way, we ought to be aggrieved morally by this. I was thinking—I was shaving this morning thinking about what we were going to talk about today. The fact that we have the elected leader of the United States of America who willfully lied to us about something that is an existential threat ought to be something that we are outraged about. We should not become inured to this or passive about this. If we had a president of the United States who told us that the communist threat was just a hoax perpetrated by the Council of Foreign Relations—(laughter)—you know, that would have been if not treasonous, at least something that—a moral abomination. And we cannot allow ourselves to become accustomed to this.  

This is a moral outrage. It is a gross failure of the commander in chief. And I don’t use the word treason very often, but when someone lies to the American people, when the entire intelligence community is telling the president of the United States that this is a national security threat of the first dimension and he is willing to lie to the American people, I don’t think we should take this lying down. I don’t think it should go without comment. And I think people should raise their voices about it, as I am here. And if you want to know why some people still deny climate change, well, the president of the United States is telling them to deny climate change. It’s really not really their fault. And so I think that we need to be a little more vocal about this, number one. 

Number two, he is failing. He’s failing in many ways. He’s failing on trade policy. He’s failing to unite the country. But he’s failing to fool people, because in the last twelve months the number of Americans who believe climate change deserves a commonsense response has gone up twelve percent, despite his lies and his tweets. And the reason this is happening is you just can’t ignore seeing a town of twenty-five thousand in Paradise, California, burn to the ground. I went there at night and drove around at night with Jerry Brown’s security forces. And it felt like a post-apocalypse Hollywood movie. You cannot deny the floods in the Midwest. I went to Hamburg, Iowa. It was a town founded in 1858. 1858, had never been flooded until this year it was under eight feet of water. And then the floods came back a month later. You can’t deny Miami Beach taxpayers having to pay taxes to raise their roads a foot and a half. So when you go shopping at Miami Beach now you look down at the shops. It’s the weirdest thing. So because people are now seeing this in their own lives, the people are demanding a response. 

MCFADDEN: So, it’s interesting. As you know, not one question asked during the 2016 campaign in any of the debates about climate change. That has shifted. The latest polling suggests—this is the latest CNN poll talking to Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters—registered voters. The number one issue, as far as they are concerned, by 82 percent, is climate change. Number two, gun control, 75 percent. Number three, health care. And coming in in fifth place is impeachment, at 43 percent. So you’re in a sweet spot, it seems. The nation, at least those leaning Democratic, are with you. And yet, I’m going to give you the harsh reality from the front page of the New York Times, which I’m sure you read. The headline: Climate Change is Catching on with Voters, Why Isn’t Jay Inslee? 

INSLEE: Well, that was last week. I hadn’t spoken to the Council of Foreign Relations yet. (Laughter.) I mean, here I am, right? (Applause.) 

MCFADDEN: You would agree that you are ratings challenged right now, somewhere between zero and 1 percent of the vote. 

INSLEE: (Laughs.) Yes, and proud of it. (Laughter.) Lookit, I’ve been—I’ve been an underdog all my life. I’ve run about—I’ve won—beat half a dozen Republicans and I’ve always started sixteen to twenty points behind. So I’m in that situation. I’ve been told that the Council of Foreign Relations is the springboard to success. (Laughter.) So here I am. 

MCFADDEN: You got to get by me first. No— 

INSLEE: No, listen, I will give you a serious answer to that question. So, yes, I have name familiarity that’s much, much lower than the senators. They’ve been on cable news for years, and I’ve just been doing mild things like, you know, doing the first public option in America, having the highest minimum wage, having the best gender pay equity, having the best paid family leave in America, have the largest teacher pay increase in America, having—a result of those things, having the best economy in the United States, with the highest GDP growth and the biggest wage growth. All I’ve done is blow up the Republican myth that if you do a middle-out strategy you’ll have a terrible economy. That’s all I’ve done as governor, so I have to be very humble about these things. So that’s what I’ve been up to. But I’ve started here where Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter started, which was at 1 percent, and you build from there. And thank you for having me. 

MCFADDEN: There you go.  

Joe Biden, famously, again, front page of the Times this morning across the world—Joe Biden has released his climate change plan. And I want to share with the audience, in case they don’t know, what you said about that yesterday. You said that his plan, quote, “lacked teeth and ambition.” Want to elaborate? 

INSLEE: No, that was pretty good. (Laughter.) Let me—I will—I will elaborate. First off, I want to thank the vice president for him—his offering a plan. I think this is a great thing. I was the first one to say that this has to be the first priority. And this is a passion of mine. I coauthored a book on this twelve years ago. By the way, the movie rights are still available. (Laughter.) So this has been a long passion of mine. And the fact that others are now stepping up to offer some ideas I think is a great thing. So I want to thank the vice president for offering some plans. 

But I do believe if you look at the—at the pace of change that we have to achieve in building a decarbonized economy, which is a massive undertaking, when we have such a short period of time according to the most recent IPCC report, that we have to adopt what you might think as some stop signs, or we won’t get this job done. And so I believe that we have to have teeth and a regulatory system that will get us off coal in the next ten years. And I’m the person who has put forward a plan to do that, who will decarbonize our electrical system by 2035. And I’m the only candidate who said we have to do that, who will say we’re not going to be selling more cars that are going to kill us with pollution after 2030. So my plan is the only one that’s offering that, and I stand by it. 

MCFADDEN: So no doubt you’ve accomplished things in Washington, and also no doubt that you hit a few brick walls in trying to accomplish things in Washington, in part because you had a split government. The Republicans were not going to hear about it. If you were to become president, chances are very good you’ll still have a split, you’ll still have Republicans you have to persuade. How are you going to—how are you going to turn everybody in this one direction which is, as you suggest, a very dramatic change from current U.S. policy? 

INSLEE: Well, two things. First off, I have been adept and successful working on a bipartisan effort. I achieved the largest infusion of public education probably in our state’s history working with Republicans. I had a Republican senate for four years. I have got now the largest infrastructure program per capita probably in the country—$70 billion in transportation infrastructure—that I worked with Republicans to get that done. They can’t build a birdhouse in Washington, D.C. So I have shown an ability to exercise the consensus building you need. 

But the current situation is, and I feel very strongly about this, is that you cannot give Mitch McConnell the filibuster and expect you’re going to solve this problem. That—he is in bed, and his party is in bed, with the fossil fuel industry. That we need to reverse course. We give them $27 billion of subsidies for now reason. That has to stop. And we have to reduce and eliminate the filibuster if we expect to solve this problem. If Mitch McConnell has the filibuster, there’s going to be zero progress on this issue. Now, I was the first candidate to say that, because senators like that kind of baronial privilege. The filibuster is the last, you know, dutchy and princedom in America. And we just don’t have that luxury anymore. 

Now, I also believe it from the small-D democracy standpoint. You got to have one senator, one vote. And with the filibuster, the senator that wants change gets one vote, the senator who wants to be anchored to the last century gets one and a half votes. What kind of democracy is that? So that’s the way to do. And then we got to pick up a seat or two. 

MCFADDEN: OK. So let’s move away from climate change for a minute, in a speed round of responses to issues that the next president is certainly going to have to face. Well, the first one the next president is going to have to face, and that’s impeachment. Should the president be impeached? 

INSLEE: I believe the president is essentially forcing that action. And when the Congress— 

MCFADDEN: If you were—if you were in Congress right now would you be voting— 

INSLEE: I’m not. I’m running for president. That’s why I got out of Congress, so. (Laughs.) 

MCFADDEN: Right, but if you were, would you be encouraging Nancy Pelosi to put impeachment— 

INSLEE: I would be encouraging her to take an action that’s heading in that direction at the right pace. And when the Congress acts on impeachment, I will be fully supportive of it. I mentioned something that—I actually think to some degree we have—we have been blinded by the small things that Donald Trump has done. You know, the obstruction of justice, which it’s clear that in my view he has done, but I believe this fact that he has asked America to ignore a current national security threat is a much larger violation of his obligations to us, which is potentially fatal. So, yes, I would be supportive of impeachment. 

MCFADDEN: OK, we got to go faster because we’re on cable television. 

INSLEE: (Laughs.) 

MCFADDEN: And we want to get to questions. So just quickly, guns? Gun control? 

INSLEE: I believe very strongly in commonsense gun safety. I voted for the assault weapon bill in 1994. I knew when I did that I’d probably lose my seat in Congress. I did lose my seat in Congress. But I have never regretted that for one second. It was the right vote then. It’s the right vote now. And I’m proud to tell you we’ve now had three major measures advance since I’ve been government on commonsense gun legislation. And I’ve got the NRA on the run in my state. I intend to do that nationally as well. 

MCFADDEN: We are at the Council on Foreign Relations. Iran. The president has indicated he’d be willing to sit down and talk to the Iranians without any preconditions. Good idea? 

INSLEE: I think, as Churchill said, it’s better to jaw-jaw than war-war. And I think that that applies in this circumstance. I think we have been weakened in that the president has weakened our ability to grow alliances. This is true in Iran. I think it’s true, to some degree, on our trade issues. And we need to reestablish the power of alliances in this regard. And we have to, dare I say it, listen to our intelligence professionals. Look, I talk to these intelligence professionals and say we send briefings, it’s like the black hole. They go in, they never come out. This is a guy who doesn’t even listen to the taxpayer-generated intelligence that we’re generating. This is a dangerous situation. 

Now, I am a little sensitive about this because I was one of the most vocal and persistent opponents of the Iraq War. I believed then that the intelligence was being manipulated. I tried to warn the country about this. And I saw a disaster. I do not intend to allow that movie to be rerun. 

MCFADDEN: Venezuela. Is the U.S. in the right posture vis-à-vis Venezuela? Should we be more aggressive? Should we be less aggressive? 

INSLEE: I think putting John Bolton in a small box with no communication would be a good idea in this regard. (Laughter.) First. And second, I would try to embrace the communities and the states that are in that region to try to help in this regard. 

MCFADDEN: Perfect segue to the audience, what do you think? 

INSLEE: Thank you. (Laughs.) 

MCFADDEN: OK. So let’s call on some members. But I want to just remind you, we are on the record. If you would identify yourself before you ask your question. 


Q: Bill Drozdiak, McClarty Associates. 

 Governor, a lot of energy experts say that the only way to meet the ambitious goals that you’ve outlined is a significant expansion of nuclear power plants. You believe that? And secondly, how do you deal with the toxic consequences of political fears among the population, and also what do you do about the waste? 

INSLEE: So I believe that the urgency and our timeframe is so short that we have to be open to essentially any low-carbon or zero-carbon technologies. So my belief is we should continue our research and development in potential new technologies in the nuclear field. But they are only potential at the moment, because we will have to surmount several things to make it a viable future. Number one, they will have to become passively safe, which they have not really been able to demonstrate going forward. Number two, we will have to reduce the cost dramatically. The reason nuclear power has not increased is cost as much as anything—any regulatory burden. So if there is a way to have a standardized smaller system that is much cheaper, that’s something—there is research going on, and I’m supportive of that. 

Third, we have to solve the waste stream problem, as you’re talking about, if this is going to be a growth industry. There are some new technologies about new ways of having nuclear power which are quite distinctive, that essentially have almost zero or very, very low waste. Some of those are being researched today. And fourth, the public would have to become accepting of this technology. So there are four things that would have to happen for nuclear to have a significant growth. I think we ought to have our eyes open to those possibilities and have R&D that is committed to that. By the way, I didn’t talk to R&D about this. Our R&D has to expand exponentially in this state—or, this country. A few years ago we spent more money on one armored personnel carrier design than the entire clean energy budget in the United States. That needs to change. 

MCFADDEN: Yes. Here comes the mic. Right behind you. 

INSLEE: By the way, let me—if I can. Just one of the things you said I’m not sure I totally—well, I know I don’t agree with. Anybody who says something isn’t possible, that’s where you should stop the sentence. Because the technological changes that we have experienced in this field in the last ten to fifteen years would have blown anybody’s mind fifteen year ago. Nobody would have said fifteen years ago we would reduce the cost of solar energy in the field by 80 percent. Nobody would have predicted that. I wrote a book about this twelve years ago and the technological change has been so stunning and the rapidity, it should give us further optimism. So I would be a little more optimistic than that statement. 

Q: Yes. Hello. Paula DiPerna, NTR Foundation and Carbon Disclosure Project. 

And we’ve talked about this before, many years. Richard can attest to the fact that we’ve been talking about it on and off here for a decade at least. There must have been another side to your speech on the back page because I will take some responsibility as a long-standing person involved with this issue. It sounds like: Eat your vegetables. It has sounded to the public like eat your vegetables for twenty years. So how are you going to bring it to the positive, talk to the unions, tap that confidence, because it all sounds so punitive—we’re going to die if we don’t. That’s why we don’t wake up in the morning. 

INSLEE: Yeah. Well, if the Council had given me another ten minutes, I would have gotten to that part of the speech. It is a very important issue. You choose your audiences. So in most audience— 

Q: (Off mic)—too. 

INSLEE: (Laughs.) 

Q: (Off mic)—more than anybody. 

INSLEE: That’s true. 

So the book I wrote was not called Polar Bears and Why I Love Them. It was called Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy. I look at this from an economic growth lens. This is both a moment of great peril, but it is a moment of great promise economically. And so when I give my stump speech, I talk about this dramatically. And I talk about it because it’s actually happening. The fastest-growing job in America today is solar installer. The second-fastest growing job is wind turbine technician. Clean energy jobs are growing twice as fast as the rest of the United States economy. And these are jobs not just for physicists or chemists. They’re jobs for carpenters, and IBEW members, and machinists and steel workers, because we’re going to have to rebuild the whole building stock of the United States to retrofit it so we don’t lose so much energy. 

And there is no place in the United States that I don’t go where I can’t find a growth opportunity. And it’s stunning. And it’s also very interesting, because we know that we’ve had such a disparity between urban and rural economies in the United States. And one of the—one of the attributes of clean energy job creation is that frequently it’s in smaller towns. So I go to Moses Lake, the largest carbon fiber manufacturer, where we really great-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing. It’s the largest carbon manufacturer in the western hemisphere. It’s not in Seattle. It’s in Moses Lake, a little town out in central Washington. The largest solar farm is in Lind, Washington, a town of 360. Largest biorefinery is in Grays Harbor, Washington, which is a former timber town that’s been very depressed, that’s now taking feedstock from Iowa and making biofuels. And this is happening in Iowa where you see solar developers in small communities. 

So this is a small-town revitalization program. It is also an opportunity to do what I believe, which is that we have to rebuild the collective bargaining laws of the United States so that the people who brought us the weekend, namely unions, have the chance to bring us a pay raise. And for the last twenty-five years, 50 percent of America hasn’t had a pay raise. Trump wonders, why isn’t everybody happy in America? It’s because 50 percent of America hasn’t had a pay raise. And when I look around and think what’s the bright spot on the horizon to get that growth, it’s this development opportunity. So I thank you for that question. And I actually agree with your belief that we have to imbue this with a sense of optimism and confidence. And I have it, because I’ve seen it happening around the country. And as I’ve said, the things that I foresaw twelve years ago, and I was optimistic then, we have surpassed that ability. 

I’ll just give an example why I’m optimistic. So I met a young man. He was a junior in Jackson High School in—just north of Seattle. And he won the Science Student of America Award last year. And I asked him, how—what did you do? And he said, well, you know, I was—I started thinking about my life. And I said: Should I decide to make a lot of money or shall I have a meaningful life to make an impact? And I decided on the second. And then I asked myself: What is the biggest challenge mankind faces? And that was really easy, the climate crisis. And then I asked myself: What’s the most important thing to solve the climate crisis? And he made the correct conclusion, we need a better battery storage system so we can integrate intermittent renewable energy into the grid. And he’s totally right on that. 

And then I asked myself: What can I do to help the development of that new technology? So he started doing some research, and he identified the single biggest challenge for batteries, which is thermal management. And so then he asked himself, what’s the problem on that? And he said, well, we need a better membrane for the ion transfer. So he went out and invented a new membrane, at age seventeen or eighteen, and won the scientist of the year award. It is that type of spirit of innovation that we are capable of igniting in America if we have a president who ignites the moral cause, and also a vision statement of economic growth, and a spark that Kennedy gave us. 

Now, I’m willing to recognize the importance of that spark because I saw it in my own lifetime with John Kennedy. And I think that’s the kind of leadership we need, and if I’m given this chance that’s what I’m going to do. 

MCFADDEN: Yes, ma’am. 

Q: Maryum Saifee. I’m currently doing the International Affairs Fellowship at CFR. 

Thank you for your leadership. I was an AmeriCorps volunteer in Seattle.  

INSLEE: All right. 

Q: So I have family that are still there. And particularly on the Muslim ban, my niece was six years old when the ban rolled out, and she’s in Seattle. She thought she’d have to pack up and leave, so your leadership really mattered. 

My question for you is, with the sort of rise of the subnational actors, mayors and governors like yourself, in crafting their own foreign policies, particularly on climate, can you give me an example—an example in Washington state that you’re proud of that could be scaled to other cities and states? 

INSLEE: I appreciate that. And subnational has been very important on this. Jerry Brown and Governor Cuomo and I founded the U.S. Climate Alliance to stay in Paris. And we did that because we wanted to show the rest of the world there’s still intelligent life in the United States. (Laughter.) And it’s been very successful. You know, I’ve gone to Bonn and Paris and talked to the world and said: Don’t give up the ship. We’re going to be back here in a year or two. And that’s been successful, keeping the world on track here. 

And, by the way, I appreciate your comment about your niece. I feel strongly about that. We now have—we have a record against Donald Trump on these matters. We have sued and defeated him twenty times in a row. So we’re going to keep up this pattern of success. 

So the thing we’ve done in our state, we have passed a 100 percent clean electrical grid bill. And this is the strongest and fastest 100 percent commitment by any state in the United States. And it is unique because it had embedded environmental justice in the concept so that at the same time we’re defeating climate change we’re helping low-income communities, we’re having a progressive economy, and we’re raising wages at the same time. Second, we’ve adopted the best building codes in the United States and the first retrofitting requirements. So we retrofit our buildings and drive investment into these construction jobs that we know that we have to do. 

Third, we’ve adopted a ban of super-pollutants. Fourth, we’ve adopted a new incentive program to help incentivize and allow middle-class people to get electric cars. And we now have about fifty thousand electric cars on the road. We’ve also adopted a procurement program. And here’s one thing where I think a president can be very handy. The federal government is the eight-hundred-pound gorilla on procurement. And we can use our procurement power much more effectively to drive these clean energy investments. So I’m the first governor to have fully 50 percent of all the vehicles we buy in the state of Washington are fully electric, and our employees love them. So that’s a few things that we’ve done. We have more work to do. I wasn’t able to pass a clean fuel standard, which we need to embrace federally and in my state. But I’ll be back in January in that regard. And there’s pending Supreme Court decision which will essentially allow me to do that if my Supreme Court does the right thing. 

MCFADDEN: Another question? Yes. 

Q: Hi. Alexandria Villaseñor, fourteen-year-old climate activist and founder of Earth Uprising. 

So my question is, you already talked about China. So what I want to know is how would you work with the poorest countries and the developing nations who are increasing their reliance on coal because it is all they can afford to do? Do you think the U.S. has a responsibility to help those nations transition into renewable energy? 

INSLEE: Yes, I do. Not just on a moral standpoint, but because of our own self-interest. This is a self-interest issue here. And we have during the Trump administration created vacuum that’s most unfortunate into which China has rushed with coal-fired plants. That is not in our self-interest. So increasing our aid program. We know what the Marshall Plan did for our self-interest in this regard and making sure that we tie some of our aid programs to conditions that we do help in a meaningful way build renewable systems rather than coal-fired plants, that is both the moral thing to do and it is in our self-interest do as well. 

So I’m excited about this. And I just want to thank you for your moral leadership, because this is an issue of morality. And I just want to tell you why I’m running for president, Alexandria. I don’t know if I really told you this. I was sitting on a park bench with her a week or two in front of the U.N. When I was thinking about running for president—I love running as—I love being governor. I’ve had tremendous success as governor. But I basically said on my end days, my final days—which I hope is a long ways from now—that I will be able to look at my three grandkids and tell them I did everything I could for them to save them from this. I take this very personally. So I want to thank you personally for what you’re doing. (Applause.) 

MCFADDEN: Did Richard Haass have to sign, like, a thing for school today, or no? (Laughter.) 

Q: My school is out. (Laughter.) 

MCFADDEN: Great. Well, welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. 

INSLEE: Well, as governor I get to issue pardons, so it’s great. (Laughter.) 


Q: Hi. Nili Gilbert from Matarin Capital Management. Thank you for being here. 

Washington State Investment Board, your state pension fund, has been a real thought leader in agenda setting for long termism in the capital markets, thinking about environmental and social issues in its investments. When you were talking about the green bank, you mentioned the need to stimulate more private sector commitment behind climate change. Could you share with us some specific ideas for motivating the private sector behind these initiatives? Thank you. 

INSLEE: Well, the first motivation is you’re not going to be able to sell your death-dealing products anymore. That’s a pretty good motivation. And I was in—I was in Detroit yesterday meeting with the community that is surrounded by oil complexes of this oil company. And I was listening to the people talk about the fact that their children literally have a hard time breathing because the epidemic of asthma we have, because asthma rates increase dramatically the closer you live to a freeway. And we know who’s breathing that, it’s communities of poverty and communities of color who are most affected by this epidemic of asthma. And we know the cancer rates are dramatically increased because of this pollution. 

Now, this sounds sort of macabre or dramatic, but it is the truth. The truth is, we lose, I don’t know, like, thirty-five thousand people die a year of car crashes. And we know the pain we feel when we lose someone in a car crash. But there’s fifteen thousand more people die of cancer and respiratory distress caused by this pollution. So the first great incentive is say: We’re just not going to allow that anymore—both because of the immediate health effects and the more global draconian health effects because of the climate crisis. And once you send that signal, there is going to be massive private investment going into all of these clean energy technologies. And I think people forget that, the capability of private markets to drive successfully these technologies. 

Look, I remember when I was at UW in the ’70s, you could not see Mount Rainer from the campus at the University of Washington because of the smog. And we went out and banned that type of nitrous oxide and particulates. And we said, Detroit, you’re going to have to invent catalytic converters. And they said, no, no, you’re going to crater the industry. We’ll never be able to do it. Well, they did it in a heartbeat. And for the last two decades you’ve been able to see Mount Rainer because of that investment, because of that signal that we sent to the markets. Until the last two summers where we’ve not been able to see Mount Rainer because the smoke from the forest fires that have been precipitated by climate change are so draconian. We had to close our swimming pools last year in the state of Washington. Our kids couldn’t go swimming because of the air quality. So this is a signal to the markets. And it’s going to unleash trillions of dollars of investment around the world. and I profoundly believe that.  

MCFADDEN: Yes, in the back. 

Q: Jeff Glueck from Foursquare. 

Governor, could you speak to your evolution after failing to pass the carbon tax in Washington towards job creation and regulations instead of a carbon tax, and how that speaks to people of color or lower income groups, for your plan? 

INSLEE: Yes. So we had a ballot initiative that would have created a carbon tax this year. It was defeated. And so when I came back to the—(audio break)—America, which is the power of perseverance. So I proposed a suite of policies that would have achieved the same carbon savings as that initiative would have done. And I adopted about five out of—or, we actually go through about five out of six of those and got about 80 percent of the way to what the initiative would have done. And I think there’s a lesson there, which is you just need to be perseverant, number one. And number two, the good news here is that there are multiple strategies and policies to advance this clean energy economy. There’s not just one. Look, if there was just one we’d be in kind of in trouble. And there are multiple ones.  

The other beauty of this is that we are not the first to invent the rocket ship. These policies have been shown to be successful in multiple jurisdictions. And, by the way, you know, Trump says, look, if you embrace clean energy you’re going to crater your economy. Well, that’s kind of interesting. What’s the best economy in the United States? State of Washington. We have the best economy not despite the fact that we are focusing on clean energy, but because of the fact we are focusing on clean energy. What’s the other two or three? California. It has a clean fuel standards and a whole host of policies. So if you look at the United States economic development, there’s almost a one to one correlation between the states that have embraced clean energy policies, and those are the ones with the greatest economic development.  

Now, your issue about environmental justice, we’ve done several things. Number one, in our 100 percent bill—and I’m proud of this, because we’re the first state to do this—we have a legal requirement that utilities that benefit from the credits that you can use under that rule have to provide subsidies to low-income people for their energy bills to prevent any price spikes to low-income folks that might be deleterious. Secondly, we have embedded a whole host of incentives to incentivize the jobs we do build will be family wage jobs, $25 an hour jobs, not minimum wage jobs. Now, we got the highest minimum wage, and we need to go above that. And a whole new suite of collective bargaining rules that I think are rational to try to reverse the slide of union participation in this country. So those are very important parts of what we’re doing. 

MCFADDEN: So, governor, let me just ask you a follow up on that, though. Isn’t it—I understand the practice of going around to achieve the goal, but isn’t it important to understand why voters in Washington really overwhelmingly rejected the carbon tax? I mean, if we don’t understand what they’re thinking and why they’re thinking it, then how can you ever hope to really change the hearts and minds and ultimately the policy? 

INSLEE: Well, I think, you know, you need to look at what happened. 

MCFADDEN: So what happened? 

INSLEE: The fossil fuel industry spent $32 million that they could have spent researching new technology. Instead, they spent $32 million creating obfuscation and outright deceit about what the initiative did. 

MCFADDEN: Scaring people. Scaring people. 

INSLEE: Let me give you an example. And they’re very good. These are smart people, by the way. These are brilliant people. And we need to use their brilliance to develop new energy systems instead of telling falsehoods to the American people. What they did was—I’ll just give you an example. So, we have—we’re closing our last coal-fired plant in the state of Washington. It’s in Centralia. And we developed a $55 million fund to help that community through this transition in a whole host of ways—new jobs, new training, new education, new infrastructure—because we wanted to cushion this transition that this community is going to go through. And so when we did that we reached an agreement with the community that we would shut the plant down in a few years, not yesterday. So we had a transition plan. And that’s what we need to do nationally for the dedicated, hard-working coal families that have been the backbone of our economy for decades. We need to do this federally.  

But the brilliant—but evil advertisers from the fossil fuel industry turned around and said, no, this was a sweetheart deal with the coal lobbyists, and tried to make the proponents look like they were somehow in bed with the coal lobbyists. And it was successful. And you have to realize when someone has $32 million, that kind of thing happens. But I do believe that these have broad-based support. We elected ten new legislators last session, all of whom embraced climate change, including—we elected a legislator from the heart of oil refinery district in my state. We elected seven new governors, all of whom embrace climate change. We elected forty new members of the U.S. Congress, all of whom embrace climate change. There’s a message here electorally, and that’s we need progress. 

MCFADDEN: So we promised that we’d let the go at 9:00. We have one minute left. Can you answer a question in one minute? Let’s see. Yes, sir. Oh, Mr. Peterson. 

Q: Hi. Michael Peterson from the Peterson Foundation. 

I wanted to close on an optimistic note, which is our national debt problem. (Laughter.)  


Q: If you were the next president, you’d face a $24 trillion debt and trillion-dollar annual deficits. Do you see a connection between that growing debt and our growing interest burden, and our ability to afford all these important investments in our future and R&D, et cetera? And if so, how would you address this challenge? 

INSLEE: Number one, I’d reverse the Trump tax cuts. And I would not listen to those people who voted for the tax cuts and then are going to try to be judgment of our ability to solve the climate crisis. Second, we would reel in the $27 billion of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Third, I would generate massive economic growth associated with this clean energy revolution, which is going to generate massive revenues, I believe, because we’re going to grow our economy.  

And, by the way, when people ask, you know, how are you going to afford this? I respond: Mr. Trump, how are you going to afford Paradise, California burning to the ground? How are you going to afford the billions of dollars of agricultural losses that we have had? How are you going to afford the billions of dollars in health care costs associated with air pollution? This is a net winner economically for the United States. And thanks for ending on an optimistic note. I appreciate that. 

MCFADDEN: There you go. Governor, thank you so much. (Applause.) 

INSLEE: All right. Thank you. 

MCFADDEN: Really love talking to you. 

INSLEE: Thank you. 


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