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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Says He's Running for President in 2020 for One Urgent Reason: The Climate Crisis

"We're the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we're the last that can do something about it."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, participated in a panel discussion about the U.S. Climate Alliance during the United Nation's Climate Change Conference's 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) in Bonn, Germany. (Photo: International Institute for Sustainable Development/Jay Inslee/Flickr/cc)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee joined the crowded field of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders on Friday with a vow to make the global climate crisis the centerpiece of his campaign.

"I'm running for president because I'm the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation's number one priority," Inslee declares in a campaign announcement video shared on social media.

"We're the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we're the last that can do something about it," he says in the video. "This crisis isn't just a chart or graph anymore. The impacts are being felt everywhere."

Inslee calls for implementing elements of the Green New Dealintroduced last month by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—without specifically mentioning the congressional resolution that is co-sponsored by the six senators running for president and dozens of other Democratic lawmakers.

Asked by Vox's David Roberts in a wide-ranging interview published Friday whether he has endorsed the Green New Deal, which aims to "achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers," Inslee said:

Well, I don't get to vote on it, but I am totally in sync and believe that it is exactly what I have said for decades. I think these aspirational goals are appropriate to the time and the scale. I love the fact that it is embracing economic justice issues as well. I think we have come to understand more about how marginalized communities have been the victims of climate change.

As the campaign video shows, the governor has a long track record of advocating for actions to address the human-caused climate crisis. In 2007, while he represented Washington's 1st District in the U.S. House, Inslee released a book titled Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy, co-written with Bracken Hendricks.

"We should do what I said we should do in my book: a major industrial transformation to decarbonize the U.S. economy that will result in millions of new jobs and greater prosperity," Inslee told Roberts. "Unfortunately, no movies were made of my book [laughter] and it didn't capture people's imagination in 2007."

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However, in the 12 years since his book was published, public opinion has evolved. While young people across the globe take to the streets—and take over congressional offices—to demand urgent action, multiple polls published this year have shown a growing majority of Americans recognize that the crisis is driven by human activity and are concerned about the threats it poses.

As Inslee told The Associated Press, "climate change is a unifying issue."

While welcoming Inslee's stated dedication to combating the global crisis, climate campaigners raised alarm about controversial projects in Washington state such as the proposed methanol plant in Kalama as well as a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility at the Port of Tacoma.

"These projects completely undermine our state's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lead on climate," Stacy Oaks of 350 Seattle said in a statement. "We can't build our clean energy future if we're still investing in dirty, dangerous fracked gas infrastructure."

"No other candidate has Inslee's track record of attention to climate, so we're happy he's going to make it a top issue in the race," added Lily Frenette of the Sunrise Movement Seattle Hub. "But we have to think hard about what it means to be a climate champion in an era when literally every day without bold action dooms more people and ecosystems to tragedy."

Frenette applauded Inslee for his pledge not to accept any fossil fuel money, but she also said: "We are deeply disappointed that he hasn't come out against new and expanded fracked gas infrastructure in WA. We have to start moving away from fossil fuels now, and fracked gas is at least as bad as coal in its climate impacts—there's zero room for it in a sustainable future."

Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives advocate and survivor Roxanne White concurred, noting that "the fracked gas industry has a long history of violating treaties, environmental racism, polluting our air and water, and causing devastatingly high rates of sexual assault and violence against Indigenous women in communities near extraction sites." As she concluded, "Believing in climate justice means saying no to fracked gas."

This post has been updated with comment from Lily Frenette, Roxanne White, and Stacy Oaks.

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