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The Climate Change Candidate Has a Big New Plan to Bury the Fossil Fuel Industry

He’s proposing a unit within the DOJ that’s tasked with going after polluters and prosecuting them to the full extent of the law

by Alex Lubben
Jun 24 2019, 8:47pm

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, the 2020 candidate running on climate change, just announced his plan to prosecute the fossil fuel industry for its role in heating the planet.

As part of his campaign — less a real bid for the presidency than a crusade to promote awareness of climate policy solutions — he’s put forward what environmental groups, including Greenpeace, consider to be the most ambitious climate change plan of any Democrat. And the fourth installment of the plan, which he unveiled Monday, is super ambitious.

He’s proposing a new office within the Department of Justice that’s tasked exclusively with going after polluters and prosecuting them to the full extent of the law and going after fossil fuel companies for climate and public health damages.

That would serve his end-game goal of ultimately phasing out U.S. fossil fuel production — and it would be a complete 180 relative to President Donald Trump’s approach to the enforcement of environmental regulations.

Since Trump took office, Inslee’s plan notes, the EPA’s inspection rate for polluters has fallen to a 10-year low. Criminal enforcement of environmental laws by the EPA has fallen to a 30-year low. The administration has put forward an aggressive agenda aimed at defanging environmental regulations while simultaneously failing to enforce the laws that are already on the books.

Here are some other highlights from the portion of the plan released on Monday:

  • An end to all fossil fuel subsidies: The U.S. gives $26 billion a year in direct financial support to the fossil fuel industry.
  • A ban on new federal leasing for fossil fuel production: That would speed the phase-out of all domestic fossil fuel production, and includes a full ban on fracking, the dangerous and leaky process by which natural gas is procured.
  • A “climate test” to govern all federal policy: This would ensure that nothing the federal government does goes against Inslee’s climate plan.
  • Returning land sovereignty to local and tribal communities: The plan says, specifically, that the Dakota Access Pipeline tramples on the land rights of native communities.
  • Ending fossil fuel exports: No more exporting liquefied natural gas, which is a booming industry in the U.S. right now and has doubled in size in just the last five years.
  • Improving corporate climate transparency: The plan cites the prospect of a climate-change driven financial crisis. It would require companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Of the 23 other 2020 Democratic contenders, only three have released detailed climate plans, and of those, only one has made mention of holding the fossil fuel industry to account for the damages it’s cause. That’s Beto O’Rourke, though the language in his plan is far more vague and less detailed than Inslee’s.

The plan contains echoes of some high-profile climate lawsuits that have sought to use the precedent set in litigation against Big Tobacco to make the fossil fuel industry pay for the extensive damage it’s done to the environment. (Big Tobacco in 1998 wound up settling for $206 billion, to be paid out over 25 years.) Inslee has made it clear that he’s aware of that legal strategy, and wants to apply it to climate change.

“Like tobacco companies, these industries have poisoned our air and polluted our planet for decades without recourse,” Inslee told ThinkProgress. “They must answer for that.”

Besides Inslee’s plans to prosecute polluters, his full climate platform is an elaborate policy platform that amounts to a granularly detailed version of a Green New Deal aimed to turning the country carbon-free. The first section he released was focused on getting to 100-percent clean energy. The second one, on a 10-year climate mobilization and a $9 trillion investment plan. The third was about how foreign policy would look in a climate-changed world.

Inslee has been calling for a Democratic debate focused entirely on climate change, a call that several other candidates have now echoed. The Democratic National Committee has so far refused to hold such a debate, but Inslee did secure enough support to make it onto the main debate stage. He'll be among the 10 Democrats appearing Wednesday in the first night of the 2020 presidential debates in Miami.

Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Washington Gov. Jay Inslee points to a map of the Everglades on an airboat ride through the everglades at the Everglades Holiday Park, Monday, June 24, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)