In the Other Washington, Governor Inslee Sows Confusion

Governor Jay Inslee speaks at the 2013 Green Inaugural Ball at NEWSEUM on January 20, 2013
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

If Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) tells you he’s happy for you, watch out.

Recently, eight children in Washington state, pushed by an astroturf green group called Plant for the Planet, sued the state’s Department of Ecology to force it to issue rules to meet greenhouse gas emissions guidelines by the end of the year. When it won an important victory — a state court judge ordered the state to produce to meet the guidelines by Dec. 31 — Inslee eagerly jumped on the bandwagon.

“Eight courageous kids went to court to compel us adults to take action on climate change,” Inslee wrote in an appeal from his campaign. “I’m happy to say that they won. This is about our future. This is about our kids’ future. Taking action is an imperative. Will you add your name to show your support for a strong Clean Air Act?”

That was a second appeal based on the success of the kids and their lawsuit. His campaign was even more effusive when the ruling came out on April 29. “Thanks to those eight kids, the court has affirmed our plan to act, contrary to the assertion of those who continue to obstruct action on climate change and ocean acidification. That’s why this election is so important.”

Inslee was so happy with the progress the students were making in their lawsuit that he promptly … appealed the ruling on behalf of the state. He since has pushed his own proposed Clean Air Rule, which is supported by the International Emissions Trading Association, which includes BP, Chevron, Shell, Duke Energy, TransCanada and others as members. Kaiser Aluminum also has signaled support.

His friends in the green movement are not feeling the love on this. One group called the appeal “an act betraying the youth of Washington.” Another activist, Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, which seeks to involve kids in the global warming debate, accused the governor of “greenwashing.”

“First, Inslee’s proposed rule would lock in unacceptable levels of pollution and catastrophic harm to the young people of Washington,” Olson said. “And now, after using the youths’ court victory as a campaign platform, Inslee’s administration is trying to get the court ruling overturned. We need courage and leadership right now, not gamesmanship and half-baked plans. Survival is at stake. Get on board governor, or get out of the way.”

First, nothing about what these children are doing is courageous. They are being pushed along by activist adults who seek to “give them voice.” These adults know the score and cynically make a living of using kids to ask for outrageous things and presenting dire predictions for what might happen if those things don’t occur.

But be an adult. Admit that cute children and the green groups behind them are but one stakeholder when it comes to energy regulation and that, as governor, Inslee has to consider other perspectives.

But then, guts aren’t his strong suit. Hyberbolic emails designed to inflame passions he has no intention of addressing are.

In early June, a train carrying oil derailed and caught fire in the Columbia River in Oregon. The Inslee campaign rushed out an email calling for, among other things, outlawing rail cars carrying crude oil in Washington.

“This is headline I wish I never had to see,” said Inslee before a graphic of the headline, which reads, “Oil train derails, catches fire in Columbia River.”

Inslee decried that the U.S. Department of Transportation has given railroads too much time to replace aging track and called for lower speed limits for trains — not just in cities but everywhere. He said communities cannot afford to wait on progress from Washington, D.C.

“While oil commerce is interstate, the environmental consequences are local,” he breathlessly concluded.

Inslee can’t any more stop rail shipments of oil in Washington state than he can support the eight students and their call for an immediate economy-strangling, unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions rule. No state is more dependent on trade than Washington, and transporting oil is an important part of that trade.

Moreover, some big decisions on energy policy are heading his way, and this bent for the thoroughly impractical does not bode well for those decisions being made with proper deliberation.

Later this year, he will be asked to weigh in on whether Vancouver Energy can build an oil terminal on the Pacific coast. His politicization of the oil spill in Oregon suggests he already may have made up his mind about the terminal.

Again, even those of us who don’t see an imminent and dramatic threat from the weather acknowledge the need to acquire and transport energy as cleanly and efficiently as possible. But America is not going to stop charging its cell phones — how else would it keep up with Pokemon Go?

So why can’t Gov. Inslee acknowledge that, unlike the pie-in-the-sky activists he seeks to appease, he has a responsibility to govern — for the people who need energy, jobs, infrastructure and the products these goods produce?

His little trick with the eight student activists was a nice stunt. But it’s not stunts we need; it’s leadership that recognizes this is an adult problem that requires adult solutions.


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