Wash Gov. Jay Inslee kicks off climate-focused 2020 White House bid, vowing to end 'gravy train' for fossil fuel companies

  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday he's entering the 2020 presidential race as a climate change crusader, joining a crowded field of other Democratic contenders.
  • "I'm running for president because I'm the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation's number one priority," Inslee said in a video released Friday.
  • But he faces risk as recent polls show the climate issue ranks near the bottom as a priority for adult Americans.
  • Inslee kicked off his campaign Friday at a solar installation facility where he vowed to end the "gravy train" of subsidies for fossil fuel companies.
Governor Jay Inslee
Olivia Michael | CNBC
Governor Jay Inslee


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Friday he's entering the 2020 presidential race as a climate change crusader but he's facing risk given polls show the issue ranks near the bottom as an issue priority for adult Americans.

"I'm running for president because I'm the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation's number one priority," Inslee said in a video released Friday.

Inslee, 68, joins a crowded field of Democratic contenders who have announced or are considering running for president.

He is the first governor enter the 2020 Democratic presidential contest while another Western governor also is considering a run — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.

In a Morning Consult survey last month, Inslee ranked 21st among Democratic primary voters. He was below Bullock and another potential contender, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Inslee has openly discussed his interest in a White House run for many months and from the start focused on climate change. The Democrat has already visited key early states, including Iowa and New Hampshire.

"We have one chance to defeat climate change and it is right now," Inslee said Friday in remarks at a Seattle-area solar installation company where he made the White House bid official. "And it is my belief that when you have one chance in life, you take it."

Inslee added, "This is our moment together to create not just a transition but a just transition to bring justice to all communities, especially front line communities of color that have borne the brunt of climate change."

He pledged a national mission with several climate goals, including powering the economy using "100 percent clean, renewable and carbon-free energy" and achieving "net zero greenhouse gas pollution in the United States." He also set a goal "to create millions of good paying jobs in every community investing in clean energy," from building electric cars in Michigan and making and installing wind turbines in Iowa to installing more solar out West.

At the same time, Inslee vowed to end the practice of billions of dollar in subsidies going to fossil fuel industries.

"I have a message for the oil, coal and gas special interests: that gravy train is over," he said. "As a candidate, I will not take one dime from fossil fuel companies. When I am president, not one nickel of the taxpayer dollars will go to subsidize oil and gas."

But not everyone considers climate change a top priority issue, according to Pew Research Center.

A Pew survey conducted in January found only 44 percent view climate change as a top priority of President Donald Trump and Congress, ranking it second lowest after global trade (39 percent). By comparison, 70 percent of those surveyed felt the economy should rank top as a policy priority and 69 percent identified health care costs.

Climate policies

In November, Inslee visited California after the Camp Fire destroyed most of the town of Paradise and later spoke about how climate change is contributing to more dangerous wildfires. Some of images in the launch video released Friday appear to show devastation from the Camp Fire, which destroyed more than 10,000 homes and killed 86 people.

Inslee, a two-term governor who applauds the Green New Deal, has been outspoken on the environmental issues and the need for clean energy for more than a decade. Prior to becoming governor, he served in Congress and authored "Apollo's Fire," a 2007 book about how to reduce greenhouse gases and gain energy independence.

Yet several other Democratic presidential contenders are also talking about climate change themes and a mix of ways to combat greenhouse gas emissions, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. Also, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has weighed in on climate change as a human rights issue.

Carbon tax defeat

Inslee's climate agenda suffered a setback last year when the oil industry funded a campaign to defeat a carbon emissions fee initiative the governor backed. The measure was seen as a way to raise revenue as well as to help the state achieve ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals.

One way around the voter setback is a pending clean energy bill that would require the state's utilities to be carbon-free by 2045. The state already gets the majority of its power from hydroelectricity sources.

He also is a former criminal prosecutor and was a state legislator in Olympia before getting elected Washington's 23rd governor in 2012 and re-elected in 2016. He could seek a third term if his presidential run isn't successful.

The Washington governor also has strong views on other issues, including gun control, health care, immigration and labor issues.

Gun Control

Inslee is an advocate for stricter gun control laws and in 1994 while in Congress voted for the 10-year assault weapons ban. He also challenged Trump at a White House event last year on the issue of arming teachers with firearms.

Last year, Washington voters approved Initiative 1639, a measure Inslee supported that raised the age to purchase semiautomatic rifles to 21, from 18. The initiative also expanded background checks for rifles and added other new regulations, including firearm education and new standards for secured gun storage.

Health Care

Inslee backs a public health care option for the state that would compete with private insurers. The plan was proposed in January and promises that patients will spend no more than 10 percent of their income on premiums.

The Democrat has criticized the "instability" in the health care system that was caused by undermining Obamacare. His plan would expand subsidies to private insurers but has generated criticism due to concerns about costs from some critics.

Immigration

Inslee has been critical of Trump's immigration policies and signed an executive order in 2017 that limited the state's role in enforcing immigration enforcement laws. He also pushed to increase the state's emergency funding to support civil legal aid services for immigrant families.

The governor also recently called Trump's emergency declaration over the border wall "illegal" and last year slammed the administration's "zero tolerance" policy of separating families as "an intentional infliction, abusive behavior to punish innocent children."

Labor

While he's been governor, Washington state's minimum wage has increased and currently stands at $12 an hour and is scheduled to jump to $13.50 in 2020. Seattle's minimum wage last year jumped to $15 for those employers offering paid medical benefits while smaller employers have a wage floor of $14 an hour.

Inslee also has talked up progressive policies in the Evergreen State, including what he's called one of nation's "best paid family and medical leave" programs.