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Inslee: Nation must break oil addiction

Jay Inslee wants to persuade his fellow congressional Democrats to kill two huge birds with one stone.

The “birds”: national security and global warming. The “stone”: reducing our national reliance on cheap fossil fuel.

When he goes to the congressional Democratic retreat later this month, Inslee will propose a 10-year program to promote alternative energy sources, he said in an interview this week at his Hawley Way home on Bainbridge Island.

“We are in a bog in the Middle East because of our dependence on oil, and people get that,” Inslee said. “And there was another headline in the newspaper today about global warming caused by greenhouse gases. This is a perfect opportunity for the country to work its way out of two problems.”

Inslee said he is mulling which of two possible targets to propose – either total independence from foreign oil, or independence from Mideast sources.

“There is no silver bullet, but a 10-year time frame is realistic using a combination of new energy technology and conservation measures,” he said.

Inslee said that energy-reducing technology is coming, citing solar and wind power, and automobiles that run in whole or in part on hydrogen. But he said the United States is a laggard rather than a leader in those areas.

“The leader in clean-car technology is Japan, solar-panel technology is Germany, and wind power is Denmark,” he said. “Years ago we talked about a missile gap, but now, we have a clean-technology gap.”

Inslee believes the national addiction to low-priced fossil fuels plays a part in the administration’s policy toward Iraq.

“There is a cadre of people around the president who have believed for years that it would be in our economic interest to have a western-friendly regime in Iraq to act as a counterbalance to the Saudis and OPEC,” he said. “And those conclusions may be economically rational if you depend on cheap oil.”

On the cusp of the November election, Inslee voted against a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, and a month later easily won re-election to a third term representing Washington’s 1st District.

This week he repeated his opposition to an immediate armed attack on the Middle Eastern nation, at least while U.N. weapons inspections continue.

“When you get involved in one conflict, you lose the ability to control others,” he said, adding that North Korea’s push towards resumption of its nuclear-arms program appears timed to take advantage of the Bush administration’s focus on Iraq.

Inslee does not go along with the Bush administration’s efforts to connect Iraq to international terrorism.

“They are both threats, but different threats,” he said. “Saddam and Osama bin Laden hate each other, they have totally different world views.

“I have been to all of the classified intelligence briefings, and there is simply no compelling, significant evidence of an alliance.”

If there is no attack on Iraq – and Inslee remains cautiously optimistic that there might not be – then the most pressing crisis facing Congress will be the budget, he said.

“Congress has not passed appropriations bills for the year, primarily because of the Bush tax cuts,” he said. “There isn’t enough money to fund what even the Republicans want, but they don’t want to increase the deficit either.

“So they didn’t bring the appropriations bills forward to a vote and we just didn’t act – it is a fiscal disaster.”

The fiscal situation could get even worse, he said, if the administration follows through with plans to speed up the tax cuts and institute new tax reductions, mostly for the well-to-do.

“There are estimates from the Congressional Budget Office that if we used realistic assumptions, the deficits could be as high as $500 billion per year two years from now,” he said.

While he is not optimistic about stopping new tax cuts, given that Republicans now control the Senate as well as the House, he is more optimistic about being able to blunt some of what he calls the president’s “truly stunning” assault on the environment.

“I would like to think the administration would understand the political damage being done by things like the arsenic standards in the drinking water, the rollback of clean-air protections and the plans to increase logging and road-building in wilderness areas,” he said.

Inslee said environmental protection is one issue that where the Democrats can attract enough bipartisan support to prevail.

“We can win those votes on the House floor,” he said. “The problem is getting them to a vote, because the Republicans control the agenda.”

A long-time supporter of Al Gore, Inslee said Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean are intriguing as possible Democratic nominees for president.

He believes the key for his party to retake Congress and possibly the White House is for Democrats to sharpen, rather than trying to minimize, their opposition to the Bush administration.

“The role of the loyal opposition, being a vocal and vigorous minority, it very important,” Inslee said. “When we disagree with the president on issues like the economy, we need to have the courage to stand up and say so.

“It is a political and tactical mistake to do otherwise.”

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