Jay Inslee Sees Greener Pastures Ahead

Jay Inslee has been in elected office so long that he served in Congress during the tail end of the George H.W. Bush administration.

On Monday Mr. Inslee, 72, announced that he would not seek a fourth term as Washington State’s governor, ending a nearly 30-year career in elected office. He went to Congress as a centrist Democrat and evolved into a fierce critic of the Iraq war and later of President Donald J. Trump. He will leave the State Capitol after the 2024 elections as one of America’s leading climate hawks.

Mr. Inslee ran for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination by arguing that the country would have to radically reshape its relationship with fossil fuels and promote renewable energy. While Mr. Inslee’s candidacy never caught fire, his goals later became the blueprint for the climate spending in the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Biden signed into law last year.

When I interviewed Mr. Inslee in 2017, he said the only other job he would want was to be the quarterback of his hometown Seattle Seahawks. When I reminded him of this as we spoke Monday afternoon, he replied, “Now I want to be the next goalie for the Seattle Kraken,” the city’s hockey team. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Why did you make this decision now?

There comes a time to pass the torch, and to everything there is a season, and for a variety of reasons, I decided it was the right season. But I’ve got another year and a half to put the pedal to the metal. My dad was a track coach, and he always said run through the tape, so I’ll be running through the tape.

Have you spoken with President Biden about your decision?

I have not, but he has a few other things on his mind, so I’m happy that he’s up and running in his race. I’m glad he’s in his race.

How would you grade him on climate policy?

I’ve never liked grades because I always thought it was a bit presumptuous, but I can just tell you I was so delighted at him pulling a rabbit out of the hat to get the Inflation Reduction Act through. Its prospects were so dim. And for him to get that $360 billion in clean energy investment is so pivotal for us to have even a fighting chance to deal with climate.

I just came from an unveiling of the world’s largest commercial hydrogen fuel cell plane that represents a potential for sustainable aviation. Last week, I signed a permit for a solar farm in Yakima County. These are the things that his accomplishment is going to accelerate, and I could not be more excited about that. So, you know, there’s always things on siting and permitting that are contentious.

You mentioned the siting and permitting. I take it you’re referring to his approving the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska. I imagine you don’t agree with his decisions on that front.

I don’t, but he won the presidency, and I did not. So we should point that out.

What’s your level of interest in serving in his administration at some point?

It isn’t something I’ve thought about. I really am so focused on the next 20 months. I think he’s done a real crackerjack job as president. I’m glad he’s running. I feel good about him winning the next election. I just haven’t thought about what happens after this term of office, except it’s going to be involved in something that will push the climate agenda and the clean energy economic development. I’ll find some way to be productive in that realm.

It sounds like you’d listen if the president were to call and talk to you about something.

Of course I would listen, but it’s just not something that’s on my agenda to consider at the moment.

We talked a lot when you were running for president about the urgency of the climate moment. Do you think the country and the planet are beyond a state of no return?

One of the most important things we need to do at this moment is to establish a sense of optimism and confidence in what you might call a can-do attitude when it comes to the development of clean energy. It is necessary to keep people from the despair, which leads to inactivity and passivity. And the antidote for despair is action. It is also just healthy for us from a mental health standpoint.

The rate of change is so dramatic that it legitimately should give us optimism in our ability to transform this economy much faster than we believe. In 2007, I said we’re going to be driving electric cars. People thought I was smoking the cheap stuff. Well, now we’re buying them so fast that production can’t even keep up.

Obviously, we are going to be suffering some changes that to some degree are baked into the climatic system. But we don’t need to focus on despair, we need to focus on action and a can-do spirit.

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