The Future Is Here
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Presidential Candidate Jay Inslee Proposes Shutting Down America's Coal Industry in a Decade

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Image for article titled Presidential Candidate Jay Inslee Proposes Shutting Down America's Coal Industry in a Decade
Photo: Getty

Jay Inslee, the first presidential candidate running on climate change, has a plan to deal with, uh, climate change. After laying out four guiding pillars for his candidacy, Inslee released the first major piece of his policy platform on Friday. One of the most striking aspects is a call to phase coal out completely over the next 11 years, which is, frankly, something that has to happen to have a shot at avoiding catastrophic climate change.

The plan, which the Washington governor dubbed the “100% Clean Energy for America Plan”, includes a call to get the U.S. to net-zero emissions no later than 2045. It details a plethora of policies to meet that end goal, including a number that would rapidly draw down U.S. emissions by 2030. Like kicking coal to the curb entirely.


Inslee’s plan comes right after news that electricity generation from renewables surpassed coal for the first time in the U.S. last month. That data point shows the transition away from the dirtiest form of energy on the planet is already underway in the U.S., and Inslee’s plans shows he wants to speed that along while taking care not to leave coal workers stuck footing the bill.

Coal currently accounts for about 27 percent of America’s electricity mix. The plan calls for getting that number to zero by 2030 by retiring every single one of America’s 852 coal plants, while requiring utilities to go 100 percent carbon neutral by 2030 and transition to running on zero emissions energy sources, like renewable or nuclear power, by 2035. Federal buildings would be leaders in emissions reductions, eliminating all fossil fuel use by 2023 under the plan.


The timeline for shuttering coal and decarbonizing the grid is generally in line with policies Inslee has worked on as governor of Washington. His home state just passed a plan Inslee backed to decarbonize the electric grid by 2045. That includes a commitment to phase out coal by 2025, and indeed, the state’s last coal-fired power is set to retire by then (though the wheels have been in motion since 2011). Washington already gets the lion’s share of its electricity from hydropower, so the transition to 100 percent clean energy there is somewhat easier. But while closing coal plants nationally will almost surely face political headwinds, economically it makes sense. A recent analysis shows it currently makes financial sense to tear down 74 percent of coal plants and replace them with solar or wind farms, with the percentage rising to 84 percent by 2025.

“We are already seeing many uneconomic coal plants retiring,” Arvind Ravikumar, an energy expert at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, told Earther in an email. “With falling costs for renewable energy and battery storage, and cheap natural gas as potential back-up, it is very difficult to see any future for coal-based power plants.”

Inslee’s proposal also includes a commitment of “support for workers and community transition” for areas where coal and other fossil fuel-run industries are the economic lifeblood. The campaign plans to roll out a specific suite of policy proposals on what that just transition could look like, and it could again draw on Inslee’s work as governor. The state is implementing a $55 million program to help Centralia, the community that’s home to Washington’s last coal plant.

“Obviously, this would be harder on a national scale but Gov. Inslee’s track record is very promising,” Ravikumar said.


In addition to the electric grid, Inslee’s plan also focuses on transportation and buildings. Combined, the three sectors account for roughly 70 percent of all American carbon emissions according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. The plan lays out a vision for transitioning to zero emissions vehicles by 2030 and creating a zero-carbon building standard by 2023. Again, the plan builds off Inslee’s work in Washington as well as recent legislation in states and cities including Hawaii, New York City, and Los Angeles among other locales.

Those places had the benefit of Democratic legislators and mayors or governors, though. For Inslee, who is currently polling at 1 percent, to implement his plan, the Senate would need to turn blue and likely abolish the filibuster (something he supports).


The rollout stands in contrast to presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s recent splashy $5 trillion climate plan, which espoused some fairly strong goals but didn’t lay out as detailed a roadmap of how to get there. But activists are likely to keep pushing Inslee and other candidates for ever-more ambition, including a commitment to getting the U.S. to net-zero emissions by 2030.

“This is the spirited commitment to bold climate action that young people are looking for in our next President,” Varshini Prakash, the co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, said in a statement. “Still, we believe more urgency is necessary and hope that the Governor will continue to push the envelope.”


With more policy rollouts in the future, Inslee will have the chance to do just that.