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Energy choice initiative proponents tout signature-gathering success so far

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(The Center Square) – Backers of an initiative campaign that would cement that no government or any other entity can shut off natural gas say the response to signature-gathering efforts has been overwhelming.

Initiative 2066, sponsored by the Building Industry Association of Washington, aims to repeal parts of a new state law – House Bill 1589 – that accelerates Puget Sound Energy’s shift away from natural gas. HB 1589 was passed by the Legislature this session and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“This is the strongest response I’ve seen so far for any initiative,” said Washington State Republican Party Chair Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen.

In a post on its website, BIAW reports more than 400 signing locations around the state and that more than 2,000 people have requested petitions from voter advocacy group Let’s Go Washington.

To get I-2066 on the ballot, backers must submit a minimum of 324,516 registered voters by 5 p.m. on July 5, with at least 405,000 signatures recommended to be turned in to account for any invalid signatures.

According to BIAW, in the first two weeks of signature gathering, roughly 80,000 people signed in support of I-2066, putting signature gathering on track to meet the goal of 405,000 signatures.

“The hardest thing in politics, in sports, and in life in general is building momentum, and what we’ve done with the initiatives is build momentum in public policy,” Walsh said. “People see a way for their voice to count, their signature to count, and I hope they’ll see it translate into their vote counting.”

Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, who chairs the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, said 1589 doesn’t ban natural gas.

With just over a month to gather signatures for I-2066, Nguyen told The Center Square, “It’s going to be tricky for them.”

“Functionally, 1589 is a plan for a plan,” Nguyen, continued. “PSE is the only one included, so the idea that it ignores [that] there’s a world outside of PSE is kind of interesting to me.”

According to PSE, the utility serves approximately 1.1 million electric customers and more than 900,000 natural gas customers in 10 counties across 6,000 square miles, primarily in the Puget Sound region of western Washington.

If I-2066 qualifies for the ballot and voters approve it, Nguyen isn’t sure of its impact.

“It remains to be seen if anything would actually change, as it would have to go through the courts and all that,” he explained.

Nguyen claimed that opponents of HB 1589 have made much ado about nothing, noting that the new law is aimed at efficiency.

“All it says is PSE, you have these five different reports to the UTC [Utilities and Transportation Commission] and instead of doing them one-by-one, sort of ad hoc, you do them all at the same time,” he said. “That’s literally all it does.”

Greg Lane, BIAW’s executive vice president, disagreed.

“Initiative 2066 protects natural gas and propane as energy choices against natural gas bans in any form, at any level of government in the state and at any time,” he said in an email to The Center Square. “Trying to convince voters there’s no attempt to end natural gas and propane service in Washington and disguising it as ‘decarbonization’ is disingenuous at best, and deceitful at worst.

Lane said I-2066 leaves many of the planning pieces in place, but it does repeal the electrification mandate, the removal of incentives for natural gas, and other sections discouraging the use of natural gas.

Three Let’s Go Washington-sponsored initiatives designed to lift restrictions on police vehicle pursuits, prohibit income taxes, and establish a “bill of rights” for parents of K-12 students, passed the Legislature this session and are set to become law on Thursday. Three other initiatives – repealing the state’s Climate Commitment Act, repealing the capital gains tax, and letting people opt out of the state’s long-term care program – will be decided by voters this November.