Why Washington’s Jay Inslee Is the Greenest Governor in America


Jay Inslee, recently elected governor of Washington state, openly talked about climate change on the campaign trail, bucking conventional wisdom. He literally wrote the book—Apollo’s Fire—on the clean energy economy. Now he’s taking bold stands in office.

Governor Inslee joined Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon in speaking up on a grave, albeit little-known, threat to both the Pacific Northwest and the climate of the planet: export terminals along the coast of both states that would carry coal from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin across the Pacific Ocean to power-hungry Asian countries.

“If the U.S. is going to pursue the export of coal, we should fully understand the implications of how the mining, transporting and burning of that coal affects us,” Inslee tells TakePart. “Governor Kitzhaber and I were not making a statement about any one project or any one region of our country. If we as a nation are going to continue subsidizing, and to increase investments in building new infrastructure to mine and export coal, we should have an informed conversation about the health and climate impacts and opportunity costs.”

It’s hard to envision a governor of a jobs-hungry state saying no to major infrastructure projects; but it’s equally hard to see a major infrastructure project getting built in a state where the governor is raising serious concerns about climate change.

“We know that two of the most challenging threats we face to our environment are climate change and ocean acidification,” says Inslee, to TakePart. “Washington has already seen the economic impacts—examples are shellfish growers who have started moving operations and farmers whose water supplies are diminished due to shrinking snow pack. The only way to make meaningful progress on these issues is the reduction of carbon emissions. This is no longer up for debate as far as I’m concerned. The science is clear.”

Inslee’s fight over coal export terminals is really a proxy fight, every bit as intense as that over the Keystone XL pipeline, over greenhouse gases. Demand for coal is falling within the United States. Demand for coal is rising in Asia, but the vast mines of Wyoming and Montana can’t move their products overseas without an export terminal.

Inslee is also doing his part to keep the state’s fuel mix healthy. His official portrait shows an apple pin on his suit because “the best apples in the all the world are grown in Washington’s orchards. I raised my three sons in prime apple-growing country, amidst the orchards of Yakima Valley, and I can tell you those orchardists know how to grow delicious food. I love the apple as a symbol for Washington because it’s crisp, healthy and beautiful—just like our state.”  

And he has ambitions for growing the state’s reputation for clean energy. The first bill he signed as governor is a climate bill, “intended to provide our state and its citizens with tools to meet the greenhouse gas emission limits that were already set in state statute in 2008. It passed with bipartisan support and I’m looking forward to bipartisan collaboration for moving Washington forward in reducing our share of carbon emissions.”

The biofuels industry is already partnering with the state’s military and aerospace industries, and he’s looking into electrifying the transportation system. “Washington is in a wonderful, unique position to work with business and industry leaders to develop clean energy policies and investments that will create thousands of jobs and preserve Washington’s outstanding quality of life. I’m very excited about the opportunities in front of us.”

Related Stories on TakePart:

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• Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz: 'Climate Change Is Urgent, Solvable, Human-Caused, and Real'

• Al Gore Weighs in on President Obama's Green Record, Fears a Romney Presidency

RL Miller is a climate blogger; on the executive board of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus; editor of twitter-based policy news feeds for House Progressive Caucus and others, @PCNEnvironment and @PCNNatRes; speaker at Netroots Nation; and, in spare time, a practitioner of law and keeper of chickens. TakePart.com

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