Governor Inslee’s Tough Talk on Climate Masks a Record of Failure

Feb 25, 2019

Washington Governor Jay Inslee will fit right in with today’s national political culture. As I’ve seen first-hand over 20 years working on environmental policy in Washington state, Inslee is very comfortable with rhetorical bravado.

Governor Inslee routinely calls climate change an, “existential crisis,” and it is the issue he seems most comfortable with. To that end, when he became governor, he set rigorous goals and said he would demand accountability when his CO2 reduction targets weren’t met. He boasted that, “holding ourselves accountable for results to the citizens of Washington isn’t politically expedient, but it clearly is the right thing to do.”

This talk seems to be swaying some national observers. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin said Inslee would stress, “his entire record as evidence of his ability to successfully govern, which includes climate change policies.” In Washington state, citing climate change as evidence of our governor’s success is perplexing because his record on the environment is poor by any standard – including his own.

For example, in his first year, the governor proposed a bill to create a bipartisan climate panel. I testified in favor of his bill because it prioritized policies based on results. It was a good start. It didn’t last.

Just a few months later, Inslee signed a West Coast climate pact that essentially destroyed that approach. E-mails from his own staff show they intentionally hid the agreement because they knew it would destroy bipartisan cooperation. Inslee chose a partisan, but ultimately meaningless, document over bipartisan cooperation.

He hasn’t fared any better with members of his own party. Year after year, carbon tax policies proposed by Governor Inslee failed to receive even a vote from Democrats who control the state House of Representatives. This was true even when Democrats controlled both chambers in 2018.

His record at the ballot box is similarly poor.

In 2016, a grassroots group of environmentalists put a revenue-neutral carbon tax on the ballot. Governor Inslee opposed it. Two years later, however, he endorsed a carbon tax increase (Initiative 1631) and was featured in ads for the initiative. In a year when other liberal ballot initiatives earned big majorities, the governor’s carbon tax failed 57-43 percent. Rather than support a limited carbon tax, the governor gambled on a more aggressive approach and lost badly.

Perhaps the most embarrassing failure, however, is his inability to meet the CO2 reduction targets he set for his own administration.

Early on, the governor created Results Washington, an agency to drive progress on his policy goals, setting ten goals to reduce CO2 emissions. The data show he is failing to meet eight of his ten targets. The only two he is meeting are legal requirements that were set before he was in office. Of the eight CO2 reduction targets he controls, he is failing on all eight.

It is clear the governor doesn’t take his promises seriously.  After six years, Governor Inslee has not held a single “results review” oversight meeting on his climate targets since the initial meetings in 2014.

This failure is evident in the data. While the United States’ CO2 emissions in 2016 (the most recent data available for the U.S. and states) were 13 percent lower than in 2007, Washington state’s are almost the same as they were in 2007 and have been increasing.

The environmental failures don’t stop there. As a member of the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council, I joined others recently in criticizing the Governor’s proposed budget on salmon recovery projects. This is especially critical at a time when Puget Sound killer whales are literally dying of starvation due to lack of fish. Despite that, and having billions more in tax revenue, his request for salmon recovery projects this year is actually smaller than it was four years ago.

To be clear, I have a different political perspective than the governor. Some, I am sure, will write off my criticism. Even if you want to ignore me, you should consider why Democrats have repeatedly refused to support the governor’s climate policies (and why he refused to compromise even with his own party). Examine the governor’s promises in Results Washington and his failure to meet any of the goals he set for himself. Ask why he has been unable to sway Washington voters to support his ideas, even as they vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.

During the next several months, Governor Inslee will highlight his work on climate policy. He will hope national Democrats do what Washington’s environmental community has done – admire his tough talk on climate while ignoring his inability to deliver results. How successful Governor Inslee is will say a great deal about whether climate change is an issue the left takes seriously, or whether it is simply a totem they pay homage to.

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