2020 candidate Gov. Inslee challenges Joe Biden on climate: 'He needs to step his game up'

The Inslee campaign claims the plan will create 8 million jobs over 10 years.

May 16, 2019, 12:10 PM

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democratic candidate for president, won't accept half measures in combating climate change -- he proposes shooting for the moon.

He unveiled the second leg of his sweeping plan to marshal the resources of the federal government to fight climate change on Thursday: a $9 trillion investment in jobs, clean energy, and modern infrastructure.

The proposal, which the campaign is dubbing the "Evergreen Economy Plan," pours a roughly $300 billion yearly investment into "American industries and manufacturing, infrastructure, skilled labor, and new technology deployment," and would create roughly 8 million new jobs over 10 years, according to a memo released Thursday by Inslee's campaign.

Detailing his plan, Inslee called for a bold, full-throated push to engage the best in American energies, and let the talent of the nation's workers fuel climate change initiatives.

"I do believe we have a magic moment, a marriage of great urgency - no longer a line on a graph," Inslee said at a Thursday morning press conference at a water treatment facility in southwest Washington, D.C, "It is time for the people of fire and flood to have a president who will stand up and protect them from the ravages of climate change."

Standing with him, a 13-year-old student from New York who has protested for climate change, along with union workers of the water treatment plant.

Outlining this fresh phase of his plan, Inslee assured high-paying jobs folded into his initiative - and, as embedding within the union movement. No holds barred, he called out not just President Trump's administration for their "abject failure" to protect the country from the "scourge of climate crisis," - but also, his fellow candidates in the burgeoning 2020 democratic field. Chief among them - former Vice President Joe Biden - whose focus on the union movement has garnered much rust belt appeal - but Governor Inslee says Biden's stance on climate change does not go far enough.

Inslee drew a sharp contrast with his fellow 2020'er - roundly criticizing what he deems half measures.

"If you start your assessment that you have to be moderate, or be in the middle ground - you're going to leave people under flood seeking higher ground in Iowa, which is happening today... nothing else will be satisfactory," Inslee said, saying he hoped Joe Biden would join him in his push to wean the nation off coal. "I hope all the candidates will do that. So far, none of the candidates have followed my leadership yet - and I welcome them to the party! Because we've got to get going."

"We don't stand for half measures, we need a full meal deal," Inslee said - adding, he would reserve full judgement on Biden to see what he proposes, and "see if he can match the commitments I have made to the American people... but he's got to up his game," adding - he had not yet seen any suggestion Biden would be able.

Washington Governor, Jay Inslee, speaks during a campaign event at in Seattle, March 1, 2019.
Ted S. Warren/AP

Gov. Inslee once again hearkened back to President John F. Kennedy's "Moonshot." That famous tagline came as America embarked on efforts to conquer the final frontier of space and reach the moon - now, invoking it as as an image of soaring, cosmic progress, and American forward-thinking optimism.

"Americans always invent the future," Inslee said Thursday. "We are never shackled to the past. We are never shackled to the technologies of centuries ago. We always invent the future, because it is in our nature to invent, to create, to build, and that is deep in the American breast."

The governor's announcement follows the release of the first part of his plan to combat climate change, which set 100% clean standards for electricity, new vehicles and new buildings in the United States. It also comes the week after Inslee signed into a law a package of bills in his own state to rid Washington's electric grid of fossil-fuel-generated power by 2045, cementing the state's status as a national leader in the clean power movement.

Among the ideas outlined in Inslee's massive plan: a $90 billion "Green Bank" to support clean energy deployment; a Next Generation Rural Electrification Initiative; doubling the investment in public transit and dramatically expanding electric car-charging infrastructure; launch a Clean Water for All Initiative to close the $82 billion annual funding gap in critical drinking water, stormwater and wastewater infrastructure and other investments in clean manufacturing jobs and scientific research related to climate change.

In total, the plan outlines 28 policy initiatives that span a vast array of issues from affordable housing to workers' rights, to a revitalization of urban communities and communities of color, who Inslee's campaign says have had to bear the brunt of climate change's more recent effects.

As the first leg of his plan did, Inslee's announcement garnered praise from activists and experts in the climate field, and comes as the issue continues to move to the forefront of Democratic voters' minds in the early stages of the primary.

"Young people, activists and science are all challenging our leaders to rise to meet the defining issue of our time: climate change," said Julian Brave Noisecat, the Director of Green New Deal Strategy, Data for Progress, "Gov. Inslee is doing us all a service by showing how we can meet that challenge -- and transform it into an opportunity. We can act on climate, create millions of good green jobs and fulfill the promise of a free and just democracy -- and Inslee has the plans to get us there."

"The Inslee Evergreen Economy Plan is just what we need. It is not only vital for our environment, but it is a recipe for more affordable housing and vibrant communities, good-paying jobs, corporate and municipal accountability, and global leadership for the United States," University of California, Berkeley Professor Daniel Kammen, a former Science Envoy at the State Department, said in a statement praising the proposal.

Climate change sparks a rift

Inslee's rollout keeps climate change at the center of his campaign, which is still struggling to gain nationwide momentum and secure one of the 20 spots on the stage of the first Democratic debates next month.

But it also comes as the debate over how to best combat climate change is exposing a rift in the Democratic Party, pitting one of its youngest and most prominent voices against the current frontrunner for its nomination.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in an implicit dig against former Vice President Joe Biden's reported "middle ground" approach to climate change, said at a rally for the Green New Deal earlier this week, "I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say we need a 'middle of the road' approach to save our lives."

Former Vice President and Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to voters, May 13, 2019, in Manchester, N.H.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The shot came a week after a Reuters report described Biden's supposed "middle ground approach" to climate change as an alternative to Ocasio-Cortez's sweeping Green New Deal proposal.

Biden's campaign and the candidate himself pushed back hard on the report and any notion that he is not serious about fighting climate change or protecting the environment.

"I've never been middle of the road on the environment," he told reporters at a campaign event in New Hampshire on Tuesday. "Tell her to check the statements that I made, and look at my record and she'll find that nobody has been more consistent about taking on the environment and a Green Revolution then I have."

Inslee also issued a critical statement following the Reuters report, again pressing the need for climate change to be the government's first priority.

"We need to pursue bold action to defeat climate change, not 'middle ground' approaches or half-measures. Facing a crisis does not permit half-measures. Half measures mean full extinction of millions of species and full economic damage to communities across America," Inslee wrote in a statement released by his campaign.

Thus far, Inslee and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke are the only two presidential candidates to outline detailed policy proposals to combat climate change.

O'Rourke's plan, which he released last month during a campaign swing through California, calls for an initial $1.5 trillion federal investment to "transform" the nation's infrastructure "and empower our people and communities to lead the climate fight," which would then "mobilize" $5 trillion total, according to his campaign.

ABC News' Molly Nagle, Christopher Donato and Adam Kelsey contributed to this report.

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