Tensions have been brewing for days over an already-very-controversial bill: Sen. Chris Marr's SB 5840, which would retool parts of Initiative 937.
Environmental groups have been unhappy with the changes, which they see as a wrongheaded softening of the goal of I-937: to spur investments in alternative power.
Marr insists that his complex bill is a carefully-crafted compromise that preserves that goal.
"This bill has suffered a number of near-deaths, in part because of the willingness of a number of folks to play political brinksmanship with it," he said recently. "A lot of folks are overreaching at every step."
Marr said that bill "works for too many stakeholders for it not to" pass, meaning industrial users, some environmental groups, large power companys and public utility districts. He argues that his bill preserves the commitment to a diverse power portfolio "amid economic realities."
"I think, end of day, people will say that we struck a balance," he said.
The end of the day is near, however -- there's already a lot of talk about lawmakers being forced into a special session instead of ending as planned late tonight -- and the bill is locked in a tangled web with several other critical bills.
In recent days, a coalition of Pierce- and Clark County lawmakers has been holding out for changes to benefit local utilities, and a number of other bills have gotten caught up in the fighting.
Wading into the fight, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, has written to the reluctant lawmakers, urging them to stop tying it up with other bills. (Or, as the TNT's Joe Turner put it better: "Release the hostages!")
Brown's letter is excerpted in the read-more link below.
I am writing to explain SB 5840 and how it balances environmental priorities and protections for ratepayers. I have been actively involved in this bill because I care about low income ratepayers, green energy and green jobs, and addressing climate change. It is complex bill that addresses this set of complicated issues. I also respectfully suggest that this is a one Washington bill: it should receive significant support from eastern, central and western Washington; and it will benefit urban, suburban and rural ratepayers.
The modifications suggested to I-937 in SB 5840 preserve the intent of the initiative to stimulate investments in clean energy, while providing some common sense modifications to moderate the impact on ratepayers. I believe that the customers of all utilities in the state will benefit from the bill, without any significant deterioration in our commitment to reducing emissions. The bill will also spur green job creation across a spectrum of renewable technologies, including biomass and solar. That is why, in conjunction with the continuation of wind incentive in SB6170 it is supported by the Washington Environmental Council/Washington Conservation Voters.
I also believe that other modifications to the Initiative may be warranted in the future as we further evaluate both the cost cap and load growth provisions of the initiative. The JLARC study in the bill will give us some valuable information about this.
In future years, as we move toward the mandatory renewable standards, I will remain committed to modifications that preserve the balance between investing in clean green energy and protecting ratepayers.
I am respectfully asking for your vote on SB5840 and I would appreciate it if member who are displeased with the final product vote no and not link this bill to other important measures before us.
I would also like to thank Chair McCoy and Chair Rockefeller for their work on this bill. Despite the tough day ahead of us, I would be happy to take the time to speak individually with any member about the conference committee report and/or how we got there.