Climate Candidate Jay Inslee Spars With Joe Biden: ‘Middle Ground’ Plans Won’t Save Us

For the second time in as many nights, it took CNN commentators well over an hour to get to a climate question at Wednesday night’s Democratic presidential debate. But that question appropriately went to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, the candidate who has centered his campaign on tackling the global crisis. 

Inslee, 68, said the U.S. needs a bold plan to rapidly cut planet-warming greenhouse gases and that “middle ground solutions” like the one former Vice President Joe Biden unveiled in May, “are not going to save us.”

“Too little, too late is too dangerous,” Inslee said. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Detroit.


Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic presidential debate in Detroit.

In May, Inslee’s campaign put out its first policy memo, a detailed plan to shutter all coal plants and generate 100% of the United States’ electricity from renewables in roughly a decade. Weeks later, he released the “Evergreen Economy Plan,” a 15,000-word opus blueprinting how to direct $9 trillion to eliminate a huge chunk of U.S. emissions by 2030, create 8 million jobs and revitalize unions. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the most visible climate champion in Congress right now, dubbed the plan the “gold standard” for a Green New Deal

Biden came under fire from Green New Deal proponents after Reuters reported in May that he was eyeing a “middle ground” climate policy that maintained a future for fossil fuels. Biden released the long-awaited plan weeks later, which includes the U.S. rejoining the Paris climate accord, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and investing $400 billion in clean energy research. 

“There is no middle ground about my plan,” Biden swung back on Wednesday. 

When CNN moderator Dana Bash asked Biden if there would be any room for fossil fuels like coal and natural gas in his energy agenda, the former vice president said he “would work it out.”  

“We would make sure it is eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those ― any fossil fuel,” he said.

“We cannot ’work it out,’” Inslee fired back, drawing applause. “The time is up. Our house is on fire. We have to stop using coal in 10 years, and we need a president to do it or it won’t get done. Get off coal. Save this country and the planet.” 

Inslee also emphasized that climate change is not only an environmental issue. 

“It is all the issues that we Democrats care about,” he said. “It is health. It is national security. It is our economy.”

Many other issues that relate to the environment and are of importance to voters in the swing state of Michigan ― such as Flint’s water crisis, the health of the Great Lakes or the transformations that have rocked the auto industry ― were barely discussed Wednesday.

On climate, Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) ― two sponsors of the Green New Deal resolution introduced by Ocasio-Cortez in February ― both sided with Inslee, saying they agree the threat requires leadership and aggressive action to overhaul the U.S. economy and phase out fossil fuels.

“Nobody should get applause for rejoining the Paris climate accord. That is kindergarten,” Booker said. 

Alexander Kaufman contributed to this report. 

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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