The 2020 Democratic primary is heating up, and with it has come a welcome change in the climate discussion – candidates are finally acknowledging the climate crisis and getting serious about their plans to confront it. Governor Jay Inslee’s new ‘Freedom from Fossil Fuels’ climate plan is a really, really important development, because it takes the climate conversation to a new level that hasn’t been explored much –how we actively dismantle the fossil fuel industry and its political power in order to win the change we need.

The plan ends subsidies, stops new fossil fuel infrastructure, and bans fossil fuel exports. Here’s our Oil Change U.S. response, but I’m here to explain in more detail why this plan is so exciting and takes the discussion on dealing with the climate crisis to the next level.

The science shows that right now, the carbon in already-operating oil and gas fields and coal mines would take us wayyyy beyond 1.5ºC. To clarify: that’s with already-existing fossil fuel infrastructure only.

What that means is that every single new piece of fossil fuel infrastructure digs a deeper hole. Each new oil well, gas pipeline, and export terminal makes the problem worse, and will need to be retired long before the end of its “useful life” (side note: we need some new and better terminology).

Instead of confronting this fact, the fossil fuel industry, its billionaire CEOs, and the overwhelming majority of both parties in the U.S. are rushing to build as much fossil fuel infrastructure as they can, without acknowledging the consequences of their actions or making any real plans for a transition to a different economy.

Thanks to these billionaires and politicians on both sides of the aisle, the United States is set to unleash the world’s largest burst of new oil & gas production by 2030 — and the carbon that comes with it — if we don’t do something about it ASAP.

Tribal nations and communities are desperately trying to stop and delay this massive buildout, while workers are constantly abused by billionaire oil, gas, and coal executives — and kept in fear of losing the hard-fought gains they’ve won over the last century of incredible organizing.

Meanwhile, your tax dollars are fueling the crisis. The U.S. gives over $20 BILLION in subsidies to oil, gas, and coal production every single year, and that number has increased significantly following the Trump and GOP tax cuts.

This means even the HUGE task of transitioning to 100% renewable energy in the next 10-20 years won’t be enough. Research shows that if we don’t phase down oil production and limit exports (i.e., reinstate the Crude Oil Export Ban lifted in 2015 with the help of Democrats), we’re still in deep trouble.

Given all of this, a real plan to:

  • Limit the fossil fuel industry’s expansion;
  • End heavy subsidization from U.S. taxpayers; and
  • Phase out existing extraction with a just transition

…isn’t just “nice to have” policy. It must be a critical piece of any serious climate plan.

It’s also critical to protect workers. We’ve seen time and again that when industry goes belly-up, workers are the first to be abandoned by billionaire executives — it’s been happening with Big Coal for the last 20 years. Pensions are cut, health benefits are slashed, layoffs skyrocket.

Careful planning and strong labor involvement in the plan to phase out oil, gas, and coal production are key to a truly just transition. Because if we don’t make a plan for this managed transition, we’re headed straight for either climate disaster or economic chaos (or both).

This is why no climate plan is complete without dealing with all facets of the problem. This ‘Freedom from Fossil Fuels’ plan means nothing without a strong agenda for heavy, sustained investment in social protections, thriving wages, and good, family-sustaining jobs.

A plan for 100% renewable energy is just a slogan if you’re not also actively implementing a plan to phase out fossil fuel infrastructure & diminish the fossil fuel industry’s political power (which will be a necessity to get ANY sort of climate policy passed, at any level).

All of this is why much of the climate movement spends a lot of time yelling about stopping pipelines and ending subsidies and banning exports. It’s not that we don’t love clean and renewable energy (we absolutely do). It’s because we also have to go directly after the industry to have a chance at success.

It’s not just because we hate billionaires (although we definitely do) or hate workers in the labor movement (we definitely don’t; we love them and need their help to have any shot at success). It’s because if we don’t have a plan to carefully dismantle the fossil fuel industry as we build a new world, things could turn ugly really, really quickly.

With all of this in mind, kudos to Gov. Jay Inslee for a plan that addresses this problem in a serious way. The ‘Freedom from Fossil Fuels’ plan stops new fossil fuel infrastructure, bans fossil fuel exports, ends fossil fuel subsidies, and commits to doing the hard but important work of figuring out how to phase out existing infrastructure.

It creates a Presidential Commission to study how to make this phase-out of fossil fuel production a reality. It puts key options such as “buying out & decommissioning fossil fuel assets,” which is a conversation that we sorely need to be having. And crucially, Inslee’s ‘Freedom from Fossil Fuels’ plan is connected at the hip with his ‘Evergreen Economy’ plan to commit heavy investment to protect Americans and create good, family-sustaining jobs.

Another critical piece of Inslee’s plan is his commitment to direct federal agencies to “fully empower tribal nations, through free, prior and informed consent, and the enforcement of treaty rights, to reject major infrastructure proposals that would adversely impact their people, land, water, or cultural resources.” This process of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent — which is well-defined internationally — would mark a groundbreaking shift from the way Indigenous peoples have been treated throughout America’s history, and Inslee should be applauded for committing to it in his plan.

Inslee’s plan does a lot more than what’s listed here, and honestly every climate policy wonk should read it cover-to-cover. There are already some excellent analyses out yesterday from Leah Stokes, Fergus Green, my colleague David Turnbull, David Roberts, Julian Noisecat and Brian Kahn, Justin Guay, and many others.

The plan is far from perfect, because we as a community are still sorting out how we talk about these topics. The conversation on phasing out the fossil fuel industry entirely is long overdue. One of our biggest problems is that not enough people are thinking about how to enact this phase-out. It’s scary and means confronting real power in scary ways.

But it’s also essential:

  • To meet climate goals;
  • To protect Indigenous rights & communities everywhere; and
  • To enact a truly just transition for workers

To sum up, this plan is awesome, but I also hope that ten better plans pop up in the next few months from other candidates, from elected officials, from think tanks and advocates, from academics, from energy wonks, and more. We desperately need them.

Here’s the thread above in its original Twitter form:


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