Inslee’s tough talk on climate masks a long-running record of failure

By Todd Myers

Washington Policy Center

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will fit right in with today’s national political culture. As I’ve seen first-hand working on environmental policy in Washington state, Inslee is comfortable with rhetorical bravado.

Inslee routinely calls climate change an, “existential crisis,” and it is the issue he seems most comfortable with. When he became governor, he set CO2 reduction goals and said he would demand accountability when they weren’t met.

This talk seems to be swaying some national observers. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin said Inslee would stress, “his entire record as evidence of his ability to successfully govern, which includes climate change policies.” Citing climate change as evidence of Inslee’s success is perplexing because his record on the environment is poor by any standard.

In his first year, the governor proposed to create a bipartisan climate panel. I testified in favor of his bill because it prioritized policies based on results. It was a good start. It didn’t last.

Just a few months later, Inslee signed a West Coast climate pact that essentially destroyed the bipartisan approach. Emails from his own staff show they intentionally hid the agreement from his own commission. Inslee chose a partisan, but meaningless, document over bipartisan cooperation.

He hasn’t fared any better with members of his own party. Year after year, the Inslee’s carbon tax proposals failed to receive even a vote from Democrats who control the state House of Representatives. This was true when Democrats controlled both chambers in 2018.

His record at the ballot box is similarly poor.

In 2016, a grassroots group of environmentalists put a revenue-neutral carbon tax on the ballot for voters. Inslee opposed it. Two years later he endorsed a carbon tax increase (Initiative 1631) and was featured in campaign ads. Although other liberal ballot initiatives earned big majorities, the governor’s carbon tax failed 57-43 percent. Rather than support a limited carbon tax, the governor gambled on a more aggressive approach and lost badly.

Perhaps the most embarrassing failure, however, is his inability to meet the CO2 reduction targets he set for his own administration.

Early on, the governor created Results Washington, an agency to drive progress on his policy goals, setting 10 goals to reduce CO2 emissions. The data show he is failing to meet eight of his 10 targets. The only two he is meeting are legal requirements that were set before he was in office. Of the eight CO2 reduction targets he controls, he is failing on all eight.

More revealing is that after six years, Inslee has not held a single “results review” oversight meeting on his climate targets since 2014.

This failure is evident in the data. While the United States’ CO2 emissions in 2016 (the most recent data available for the U.S. and states) were 13 percent lower than in 2007, Washington state’s are almost the same as they were in 2007 and have been increasing.

To be clear, I have a different political perspective than the governor. Some will write off my criticism. They should consider why Democrats repeatedly refused to support the governor’s climate policies, and why he refused to compromise with his own party. Examine the governor’s failure to meet any of the goals he set for himself. Ask why he has been unable to sway Washington voters even as they vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.

During the next several months, Inslee will highlight his work on climate policy. He will hope national Democrats do what Washington’s environmental community has done — admire his tough talk on climate while ignoring his inability to deliver results. How successful Inslee is making his case will say a great deal about whether climate change is an issue the left takes seriously, or whether it is simply a totem they pay homage to.

Todd Myers is the director of the Center for the Environment at Washington Policy Center. He is a member of the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council and previously served in executive management at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. He can be reached at or 206-963-3409.