Initiative to avoid elimination of natural gas in WA is progressing for November election

On July 2, 2024, Anthony Anton, the President of the Washington Hospitality Association, was seen loading a cart with a box of signed petitions for Initiative 2066. The proposed measure aims to put a stop to the state’s initiative to phase out natural gas usage in residential and commercial buildings. The image captured by Jerry Cornfield of the Washington State Standard showcases the efforts being made to prevent the implementation of the initiative.

Voters will most likely have the opportunity to express their opinions this November regarding Washington’s controversial initiatives to eliminate the use of natural gas in residential and commercial buildings.

On Tuesday, supporters of Initiative 2066 submitted over 400,000 signatures in favor of their cause, which seeks to undo the state’s climate-focused policies. The petitions were submitted to the secretary of state’s office in Tumwater, only 49 days after the first signatures were collected.

The sponsors have announced that they have submitted 431,063 signatures, which is a significant increase of almost 110,000 signatures over the required number to qualify for the upcoming general election in the fall.

According to Greg Lane, the main sponsor of the measure and executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, having natural gas not only allows individuals to keep it in their homes or businesses but also preserves the freedom of all Washingtonians to choose clean energy. It’s a straightforward concept that prioritizes both accessibility and choice.

Initiative 2066 aims to retract certain provisions of a recent state law that was intended to accelerate Puget Sound Energy’s shift away from natural gas. Additionally, it prohibits cities and counties from restricting, penalizing or discouraging the use of gas for heating purposes or any appliance in any building.

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Recent changes to Washington’s energy code, aimed at increasing the installation of electric heat pumps in newly built houses, apartments, and commercial buildings, would be rendered ineffective by the proposed measure. Gas furnaces would continue to be used instead of electric heat pumps.

Opponents of the proposal argue that it would compel the state to step back from various initiatives aimed at combating climate change and achieving sustainable energy.

Caitlin Krenn, the director of climate and clean energy at Washington Conservation Action, expressed concerns about the potential effects of I-2066. She stated that this initiative would eliminate the communities’ ability to choose, put rebate programs that assist families and small business owners in affording building upgrades at risk, revoke practical measures that improve energy efficiency and promote a healthy environment in homes and workplaces, and weaken clean air safeguards.

She noted that energy costs for hardworking Washingtonians will increase over time due to this measure.

Puget Sound Energy expressed deep concern over the ongoing spread of misinformation about natural gas, as stated in their official statement.

The utility has issued a statement stating that there is no prohibition on the usage of natural gas. According to the statement, PSE is bound to fulfill the needs of all customers who prefer natural gas.

According to a statement, House Bill 1589, which is the law that the ballot measure is aimed at, did not alter the provisions that I-2066 is targeting. Therefore, the implementation of I-2066 would not have any impact on PSE or its customers. PSE has shared details regarding HB 1589 on its website for reference.

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Lane held a different perspective as he disagreed with the notion. According to him, the objective of a particular section of the law is to bring about the electrification of the state. He firmly believed that despite what others may say, their perception is incorrect.

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According to Climate Solutions’ executive director, Gregg Small, the proposed measure would hinder our progress towards a cleaner energy future and ultimately lead to higher costs. This misstep could have significant consequences and should be avoided.

According to him, it is crucial to have a plan in place to minimize utility bills for current gas customers while transitioning to alternative sources of energy for heating homes. He expressed concern that repealing certain requirements would result in increased costs for ratepayers and have an adverse impact on our health by prolonging our dependence on burning polluting gas in homes and buildings.

The home building industry’s primary representative in Washington, BIAW, took charge of developing the proposal and rallying support from various organizations such as the Washington Hospitality Association, Washington Realtors, and Associated General Contractors. BIAW established a political committee called Main Street Matters to Washington, which played a critical role in advancing the measure onto the ballot and securing its success.

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Washington-based organization, Let’s Go Washington, has successfully gathered signatures for three Republican-supported measures that are slated for voting in November.

According to reports filed with the Public Disclosure Commission, the group has raised approximately $2.2 million since May 15, which was when the first I-2066 petitions were signed. The largest donors have been Main Street Matters to Washington, contributing $750,000, and BIAW, contributing $500,000. Notably, Brian Heywood, the millionaire founder of Let’s Go Washington, has not contributed to the fundraising efforts.

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Initiative 2066, if it qualifies, will lead the way as the first item on the ballot. Following it are other measures that suggest eliminating the state’s cap-and-trade system, terminating its capital gains tax, and providing an option for the long-term care program.

Lane stated on Tuesday that it is uncertain whether BIAW will initiate an independent campaign or collaborate with Let’s Go Washington to persuade voters to approve all four proposals.

“He said he doesn’t have an idea yet and they will have to take a look at it. They need to see what it means for this one. The team has been solely focused on getting this one qualified.”

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