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Inslee expected to sign bill that paves way for natural gas ban in WA

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(The Center Square) – A bill that could eventually ban the use of natural gas in Washington state is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday afternoon.

It remains to be seen is if any part of the controversial bill will be vetoed by Inslee.

“We should be posting the two Thursday bill action notices soon,” Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk emailed The Center Square on Wednesday. “It’ll be scheduled for Thursday afternoon.”

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1589 would allow utilities – that is, Puget Sound Energy – to start planning how to move away from natural gas.

The measure is seen as a cornerstone of Inslee’s agenda to fight climate change.

Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, is a staunch defender of the bill.

“The state is moving away from natural gas, and consumers are making that choice,” Billig told The Center Square earlier this month. “The question is are we going to plan so we can make that an orderly transition, or are we going to not plan for it? I think it makes a lot more sense to plan for an orderly transition.”

Critics don’t see it the same, including Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver.

“In most homes you’ve got a gas water heater, maybe a gas fireplace, a gas cooktop and you would have to replace all of those with electric and that’s going to cost somewhere between $40,000 and $70,000 per home,” she told The Center Square. “When you’re looking at 900,000 gas customers in the Puget Sound Energy service area, that’s a lot of people, and this is all supposed to be happening by 2030; that’s only six years away.”

Wilson noted that this could all be moot if voters this November pass Initiative 2117 to repeal the Climate Commitment Act and do away with the state’s carbon market.

Critics contend the CCA has dramatically driven up gas prices in the Evergreen State.

“It is goals set forth in the CCA that inspired this bill to phase out natural gas, and remember this is the bill the lieutenant governor called a ‘hot mess,"” Wilson said.

She went on to ask, “Why are they not listening to groups like the Building Industry Association of Washington, which has detailed very clearly how this will impact housing affordability?”

The senator remains frustrated on what she contends is the mixed message being sent by Democrats on energy policy.

“Out of one side of their mouth they go on and on about housing affordability and out the other side they want to jack up prices on homes,” Wilson said. “I don’t understand how. There’s just no logic there.”

Some environmental and progressive groups are urging a partial veto of the bill on the grounds a section of the bill is too lopsided in favor of PSE’s investors, leaving customers exposed to any rate hikes that result from the legislation.

The Center Square reached out to PSE for comment.

“PSE supports the bill in its entirety and opposes a veto of Section 7,” Melanie Coon, public relations manager for PSE, emailed The Center Square.

She went on to say, “The provision concerning accelerated depreciation ensures that current natural gas customers who are benefitting from the infrastructure pay their fair share of the costs before they leave the system, helping to protect against an undue cost burden falling on an increasingly smaller group of customers, particularly those who can least afford it.”