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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

GOP stalls energy bill vote, gives Inslee a win

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee takes questions from reporters, Friday, March 1, 2019, during a campaign event at A&R Solar in Seattle. Inslee announced that he will seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, mixing calls for combating climate change and highlights of his liberal record with an aggressive critique of President Donald Trump. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Legislative Republicans vary between genuinely skeptical and openly hostile to Gov. Jay Inslee’s run for president. So it’s a sure bet they didn’t intend to hand him a timely win on one of his climate change proposals.

But they did. Here’s how:

A bill Inslee requested on getting the state to a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045 came up for a vote in the Senate on Thursday morning. As one might expect, Republicans were none too keen about some of the aspects of the bill and proposed 22 amendments, some of them small and others that would redirect the entire bill.

As is its custom, the Senate went through the amendments one at a time, allowing the sponsor a chance to explain why a given change was a much better idea than a particular line or section of the bill. Sometimes other Republicans would add their two cents. The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, would stand up and thank the amendment’s author, sometimes profusely, for their thoughtful suggestion and explain why the bill, as written, was better.

The Senate would vote, usually a voice vote but sometimes with a full roll call for members to say yes or no individually. Carlyle had a few amendments of his own, which passed. The Republican amendments were mostly defeated. When the amending was done, Carlyle made a motion for the newly changed bill to get a final vote. Republicans objected, which under Senate rules meant the vote had to wait until Friday.

Under that rule, one member can object and force the one-day wait unless two-thirds of the Senate disagrees. But the rule is almost always waived for legislation large and small.

It’s something of a “nuclear option.” Minority parties usually only object as a statement of disdain for the bill, which, based on their amendments, they clearly had. Earlier in the week, the one-day wait was waived for an equally controversial bill with multiple amendments that would require medically accurate sexual health education in public schools. When Republicans signaled they were going to force the wait on the energy bill, Democrats didn’t try to override it.

Instead, they opted to come back first thing Friday morning to debate the bill, which under another Senate rule could no longer be amended. It would pass because both sides knew the Democrats had the votes.

Senate Democrats said they didn’t plan it that way, because they had scheduled days earlier to bring the energy bill up on Thursday for a full vote. By the time they forced the one-day delay, Republicans knew Inslee was announcing on Friday – their state chairman was already blasting him.

The bill passed just as Inslee was wrapping up his presidential announcement speech, which was essentially a clarion call for people to join him in the war against climate change, where one goal is 100 percent clean energy.

He was able to mention the Senate vote in his post-speech news conference as a win notched. When questioned about the fact that some of his past fight-carbon-pollution proposals have faltered, like new taxes, he told reporters there are many ways to fight carbon.

Like the bill the Senate just passed.

Would he rule out

a national emergency?

Would he declare a national emergency to fight climate change, a reporter asked. Inslee has been critical of President Trump’s declaration to build a portion of the border wall, and reiterated his promise to sue if any money redirected to the wall comes from a project slated for Washington.

But he would not rule out an emergency declaration for climate change, if the courts eventually uphold Trump’s maneuver.

“We would play by whatever rules now exist,” he said. “But the best way to do that is to work with Congress.”

Avista gets a mention

One Carlyle amendment that passed had some Spokane folks on high alert. They are working on a long-shot idea to form a public utility district that could buy out Avista after the offer from the Canadian utility Hydro 1 fell through.

That group includes former Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase, who said the amendment would be a way to thwart such a deal because a new PUD would have to pay the replacement value of things like the Avista dams and distribution lines, if it’s higher than the “book value” a utility like Avista lists for those assets.

Carlyle said it’s designed to allow utilities owned by investors, like Avista, and those owned by customers, like the PUDs, to work out their long-standing differences.

It’s nice that the private utilities and the PUDs get to work things out, said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, “but what about the people we represent?”

The Hydro 1 deal got turned down because a state board decided it wasn’t in the best interest of the customers, Padden said. If those customers want to form a PUD, paying replacement cost for Avista’s assets could add tens of millions of dollars to any sale and “that’s a pretty tall hill to climb,” he added.

But Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who voted with Republicans on many of their unsuccessful amendments, called the language “a place holder” on a complicated issue that will be worked out before the bill gets final passage in the House.

Padden and a few others voted against it, but it passed by a fairly loud voice vote. Those thinking of trying the PUD route to buy Avista should stay tuned for further developments.