An ambitious new climate proposal released Thursday by Washington governor and Democratic presidential contender Jay Inslee fleshes out his vision for a national clean energy jobs plan, including a “just transition” for impacted fossil fuel workers.
The detailed, 38-page policy plan is the second climate proposal from Inslee, who has devoted his entire presidential campaign to climate change. As the climate crisis has become a leading election issue, several Democratic candidates have expressed support for ideas like the federal Green New Deal resolution, which is predicated on mass job creation to expand clean energy and zero out greenhouse gas emissions.
Inslee’s new plan would do exactly that, while creating a “G.I. Bill” for impacted communities, bolstering union protections, and raising the minimum wage — an approach that could counter some of the resistance labor groups have shown towards various climate policies, which they feel do not adequately protect workers across industries.
The Evergreen Economy Plan aims to create eight million clean energy jobs over the next decade as the United States transitions away from fossil fuels and invests heavily in clean energy. The plan would be backed by a total investment of $9 trillion: $3 trillion in public investment used to leverage an additional $6 trillion.
The proposal builds on Inslee’s first climate plan, released earlier this month. That initial plan focused on a 100% clean energy standard, targeting electricity, vehicles, and buildings for swift emissions reductions. The candidate’s second offering is also sweeping in its scope, containing 28 separate policy initiatives aimed at establishing a clean energy economy.
A wide-scale job creation plan
Taking the original economy-focused New Deal as inspiration, Inslee’s new plan calls for job creation hand-in-hand with safeguarding worker rights, rebuilding infrastructure, and bolstering innovation. The governor also calls for “investments in affordable housing and municipal infrastructure,” deemed critical to “revitalizing urban communities and creating jobs across the country.”
Under the proposal, investment in electric vehicles and batteries would support domestic industry and workers while boosting the economy. The plan spells out several policies that would be leveraged to create new jobs across sectors including manufacturing, construction, energy, research, transportation, and government.
This would be done, for example, through upgrading the nation’s buildings at a rate of “one in every 25 buildings every year for 25 years” and creating 147,000 jobs alone through investing $7.8 billion for inland waterway infrastructure along the Mississippi River Corridor.
In addition, the proposal estimates that taking immediate executive action to phase out super-pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), typically found in refrigerants and air conditioning systems, would support an estimated 30,000 jobs and increase U.S. exports by $5 billion.
Unions and wages pave the way for a just transition
The final third of Inslee’s proposal focuses on ensuring “good union jobs with family supporting wages and benefits.”
This starts with accounting for coal miners who are facing severe economic hardship as an increasing number of coal plants close and companies go bankrupt — putting workers’ jobs, pensions, and health care benefits at risk.
Under Inslee’s proposed G.I.-style bill, retirement benefits insured by the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) — which is at risk of insolvency within the next few years — would be protected in part by the federal government ensuring United Mineworkers Association (UMWA) Health and Retirement Funds continue to be issued to some 87,000 workers.
Qualified families would also be granted continued access to their historic health insurance coverage; the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, for instance, is $6 billion in debt and Inslee’s plan would work to keep the fund solvent.
Furthermore, the plan states, “any energy workers losing health benefits as a result of layoffs or corporate bankruptcies will be guaranteed access to health care, with their former employers still required to meet historic coverage obligations as well as retiree or survivor benefits.”
In order to further support fossil fuel communities through a transition towards a clean energy economy, Inslee’s G.I. Bill would form a “Re-Power Fund” as well as a “Restoration Fund” in order to incentivize economic diversification — prioritizing regions with a history of energy production — in addition to creating new skilled union jobs in environmental reconstruction. Fossil fuel companies would be required to pay for damages caused by mining, drilling, and fracking by hiring local workers for reclamation and restoration projects.
Inslee’s proposal also focuses on strengthening union protections; the plan calls for repealing “right to work” laws in states that often result in lower wages and limiting workers’ rights to collective bargaining.
In order to help train future workers for new industries, Inslee’s plan increases the number of people in apprenticeships by 2030 to 1.5 million — nearly triple the current number. The proposal calls for the creation of a “Climate Corps” to specifically focus on training young people.
All of the jobs created under Inslee’s plan would have a minimum wage of $25 per hour, matching “the current rate for skilled, trained workers in the field today.”
The federal minimum wage would also be increased to $15 per hour by 2024 and national overtime rules would be updated to reverse Trump administration cuts to overtime pay impacting four million workers.
To ensure equitable wages regardless of “race, gender, or any other factor,” Inslee’s plan would, among several initiatives, establish protections for workers who choose to share their salary and benefit information as a means of strengthening a bargaining process, as well as requiring employers to disclose salary information for advertised jobs. Employers of federally-funded projects would also be prohibited from “trying to persuade workers against joining a union.”
A race to take the lead on climate issues
Inslee’s plan sets up a possible break with candidates who could argue for a compromise between aggressive climate action and labor rights.
While he has yet to release a plan, former Vice President Joe Biden is reportedly pursuing a “middle ground” approach to climate policy. According to Reuters, Biden’s plan will seek to “appeal to both environmentalists and the blue-collar voters who elected [President] Donald Trump.” Biden’s campaign criticized the report but has yet to offer clarification regarding what his plan will entail.
That reported approach, however, reflects the resistance labor groups have shown towards the Green New Deal. Some organizations — including AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. federation of unions — have expressed concerns that the resolution is too vague and requires far more assurance that jobs will be protected and that fossil fuel workers will be accounted for in any major energy transition.
But Inslee’s proposal undercuts that division, seemingly bridging the gap between climate action and labor, in an effort that might go farther in appealing to unions and blue collar workers.
The governor’s latest plan also comes as Democratic 2020 contenders face increasing pressure to distinguish themselves on climate issues. Only former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) has released a climate plan of a similar scope to those released by Inslee. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has rolled out an environmental justice plan and many candidates have expressed support for the Green New Deal. But specifics have been hard to come by and Inslee’s plan could ramp up pressure on other contenders to offer their own proposals.
One other candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), has also released more than one climate-related plan. After releasing a public lands proposal last month that would prioritize shifting away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, on Wednesday Warren rolled out a proposal addressing climate change’s impact on national security. Noting the fact that the U.S. military has been labeled one of the biggest polluters in the world, Warren’s new proposal calls for the Pentagon to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 for all non-combat bases and infrastructure.