By EMRY DINMAN
DETROIT - Sparks flew at Wednesday’s Democratic debate in a confrontation between Washington Governor Jay Inslee and former Vice President Joe Biden over a perceived inadequacy of the frontrunner’s plan to combat climate change.
In what may be the last time Inslee makes it to the Democratic debate stage in his longshot bid for the presidency; Inslee took the opportunity to press his signature issue of climate change. Citing stories of victims of climate change-aggravated disasters, such as the Paradise fire and flooding in Davenport, Iowa in March, Inslee called for immediate action and criticized “middle-ground solutions, like the Vice President (Biden) has proposed.”
“Too little too late is too dangerous,” Inslee said.
When asked by a debate moderator to respond, Biden rejected Inslee’s characterization.
“There is no middle-ground about my plan,” Biden said. “The fact of the matter is, I call for the immediate action to be taken.”
Biden called for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and to invest $4 billion to research “new alternatives” to deal with climate change. Those proposals don’t go far enough, Inslee rebutted.
“We have to get off coal in 10 years--your plan does not do that,” Inslee said. “We have to get off of fossil fuels in our electrical grid in 15. Your plan simply does not do that.”
“I’ve heard you say that we need a realistic plan,” Inslee continued. “I believe that survival is realistic, and that’s the kind of plan we need.”
Biden pushed back on the criticism, proposing investments in research and infrastructure to mitigate pollution and an end to subsidies for coal and fracking. A debate moderator pressed Biden on the issue, asking whether there was any room in his climate action plan for coal or fracking.
“We would work it out,” Biden replied. “We would make sure it’s eliminated.”
Inslee jumped at what he considered to be insufficient urgency in Biden’s climate plan, marking one of the most talked about moments the governor has had during a debate thus far.
“We can not ‘work this out,’” Inslee shot back. “The time is up. Our house is on fire. We have to stop using coal in 10 years, and we need a president who will do it or it won’t get done.”
Inslee’s own plan for tackling climate change is widely considered the most ambitious among the Democratic nominees, having made the issue central to his bid for the White House. The plan, which calls for 100 percent clean energy by 2035, has made him Greenpeace’s highest ranking candidate--an accolade Inslee pointed to at the debate.
The governor’s success on tackling climate change in his own state has been mixed, with several carbon tax proposals failing during his tenure. However, a proposal for the state to be carbon neutral by 2030 passed the legislature this year.
Inslee spoke more than twice as long at Wednesday’s debate compared to a debate in June, and stood out all the more for his confrontation with the frontrunner. However, it may be the last time Inslee finds his way to the debate stage, as the fall debates requires the governor to surpass 2 percent in three qualifying polls. Thus far, he has failed to meet that threshold even once.
Emry Dinman can be reached via email at email@example.com