This election season it’s unusual for candidates in any race to talk about clean energy as a solution to the jobs crisis let alone the climate crisis. The Washington state governor’s race gets about as close as any to talking about the issues.
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Jay Inslee, the Democratic candidate in the Washington governor’s race, has a long track record in championing renewable energy and environmental protections. During the Bush administration, then-Congressman Inslee introduced the New Apollo Energy Act, a comprehensive proposal to accelerate renewable energy. In 2006 he campaigned for a successful state initiative that established renewable energy targets for electric utilities, which has generated $7 billion in renewable investments since it was passed, according to the Sierra Club. In 2009 he co-founded the House’s Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus to advance policies to combat climate change and create green energy jobs.
In his campaign for governor, Inslee has proposed a job creation tax credit and Advanced Sustainable Biofuels Center, among other ideas, to stimulate clean energy technology. Speaking to reporters in Seattle, Inslee was asked if the weak economy were driving his push for clean energy jobs. “Yes, and the environmental threats we have,” he said. A fossil fuel based economy is finite, said Inslee. “I want to make sure to use our infinite source of energy, which is the human intellect and innovative entrepreneurial capacity. I want to put that fuel to work.”
Not all are sure Inslee’s clean economy proposal will create enough jobs and some have criticized his investment in a solar company while also pushing incentives for the industry.
His Republican opponent, Rob McKenna, has an environmental record of his own. In 2008, as state Attorney General, he joined other states in a court order demanding the EPA regulate motor vehicle emissions and later that year joined a lawsuit against the EPA for its failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries. While the environment has not played a major role in McKenna’s campaign for governor, he did need to address the issue at a recent debate. Moderator Enrique Cerna asked McKenna where he would stand on a controversial plan to transport millions of tons of coal to Washington export terminals for shipment to China. “These terminals are very large and could have significant environmental impacts, possibly health impact. They’re going to have to go through a lengthy environmental review process to assess the impact of the trains that carry the coal to reach those terminals. In making those evaluations they’re going to have to assess whether the trains are coming anyway. In other words, will the trains come whether we build the terminals or not.”
Inslee responded that jobs created by the coal port terminal are positive but two-mile long trains going through towns numerous times a day could impact small businesses. He also used the opportunity to again tout his clean economy proposal. “We should embrace the innovative spirit of Washington to build a clean energy industrial base, so we sell new systems that aren’t fossil fuel based – solar energy, wind energy, energy efficiency.”
Outside of the Green Party, there aren’t many candidates promoting alternatives to a fossil fuel based economy nationally. Inslee’s approach has caught the attention of some Democratic political strategists, including Betsy Taylor, who works with Breakthrough Strategies, a fundraising and marketing firm. She says Inslee stands out in his bid to “champion climate solutions.” She says Inslee is actually the only gubernatorial candidate that Climate Heroes 2012, a campaign-funding group she is involved with, has selected across the country. “He’s probably going to be the greenest governor in the history of the country.” All told, Climate Heroes is supporting just 14 candidates nationally this year; except for Inslee, all are in U.S. Senate or House of Representatives contests.
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