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In Our View: Inslee changed climate of presidential campaign

The Columbian
Published: August 26, 2019, 6:03am

Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign was relatively short. Hopefully, however, it will have a long legacy.

The Washington governor announced last week that he was ending his bid for the White House. While Inslee was unable to garner widespread support, he proved to be an effective spokesman for the need to address climate change. The remaining candidates for the Democratic Party nomination must continue to recognize that reducing carbon emissions is an essential mission for the federal government.

President Donald Trump also should recognize that, but he has repeatedly dismissed concerns about climate change while taking actions that will increase carbon emissions. Although it is unlikely the president will have an epiphany on the issue before the 2020 election — or during a second term if he is re-elected — Republican candidates next year for Congress and the Legislature should make climate change a priority.

In an effort to attract attention in an overcrowded Democratic field, Inslee staked his presidential hopes largely upon that single issue. His low polling numbers — typically less than 1 percent — demonstrate the difficulty of getting voters to focus on climate change.

But even if it is not No. 1 on their list of concerns, American voters are placing increased attention on the topic; a survey released last week through Yale and George Mason universities found that about 60 percent are either “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change.

Inslee has played an important role in raising awareness on a national stage, even telling Joe Biden during a debate, “Our house is on fire.” Now, both CNN and MSNBC have planned climate-change town halls with Democratic candidates.

“Our mission to defeat climate change must continue to be central to our national discussion — and must be the top priority for our next president,” Inslee wrote to supporters last week in announcing his withdrawal from the race.

Coincidentally, the day after Inslee’s decision, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of the leading Democratic candidates, released a proposal for dealing with the issue. As The Washington Post explained, “Typical of the senator’s sharp-elbowed style, Sanders leaves little room for compromise with fossil-fuel interests.”

Sanders’ approach carries a price tag of $16.3 trillion, would rely on a series of executive orders, and would depend on the federal government to remake the nation’s electrical grid rather than public-private partnerships. In other words, it is a radical proposal based on ideology rather than practicality and has no chance of gaining traction.

For example, Sanders calls for all gasoline-fueled vehicles to be off the road by 2030. As Josh Freed of the center-left think tank Third Way said, “It undermines the seriousness of the plan, and shows that it’s just a political document.”

Instead, the United States needs serious, realistic proposals to stem a tide of severe weather events that are hampering the global economy and damaging the environment. It also needs a president who rejoins the Paris Climate Accord, and congressional members who are open to solutions rather than dismissive of the threat.

As a presidential candidate, Inslee brought a well-reasoned, well-informed voice to the discussion and helped bring necessary attention to the issue. The remaining Democratic candidates should follow his example and demonstrate that the United States can be a leader in solving big problems rather than insisting they do not exist.

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