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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Natural gas regulation initiative might appear on Washington’s ballot in November

The state Building Code Council has scaled back a requirement that new construction include electric heat pumps rather than natural gas furnaces and heating appliances.  (Courtesy)

OLYMPIA – Supporters of a statewide initiative to stop Washington’s move to phase out natural gas use in buildings launched their signature-gathering campaign last week.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a state law that mandated large utilities in the state – such as Puget Sound Energy – take steps to transition away from natural gas and decarbonize residential and commercial heating systems.

Initiative 2066 would cancel some sections of that state law if it makes it onto the ballot and gets the green light from Washington voters in November. But before that can happen, signature gatherers have until July 5 to collect at least 324,516 signatures and submit the initiative to the Secretary of State’s office for official certification. It is recommended that at least 405,000 signatures be turned in to allow for invalid signatures.

Building Industry Association of Washington representatives and other supporters of the initiative gathered last week in Olympia to give public remarks to kick off their signature-gathering campaign.

Greg Lane, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, said the initiative would not prohibit people from choosing to electrify their homes if it passes, but rather keep their choice intact.

“Banning natural gas is a reckless policy that harms nearly everyone in our community,” Lane said at a news conference Thursday. “That’s why we strongly support Initiative 2066 to protect energy choice for everyone here in Washington.”

The state law signed by Inslee this year, House Bill 1589, did not ban natural gas in the state or forbid Puget Sound Energy from providing it to customers.

“PSE has an obligation to serve any customer who wants natural gas,” a spokesperson for Puget Sound Energy said in a statement Friday. “The recently passed legislation did not change that. … It’s disappointing to see continued misinformation about what the legislation requires. HB 1589 is fundamentally a planning requirement and some of the provisions in I-2066 strip out important mechanisms that help us to cost-effectively plan for the eventual decarbonization of our system in alignment with customer choices and state policies.”

If passed, initiative 2066 would also repeal recent changes to Washington’s building code that require heat pumps be installed in newly built houses, apartments and commercial buildings.

Some local environmental groups have been outspoken in their support of the new building code rules and the new state law phasing out natural gas.

Leaders of the nonprofit Climate Solutions praised the Legislature’s passage of the clean energy law this year. When the nonprofit’s executive director heard signature gathering had been launched to repeal some elements of the law, he said he was “deeply disappointed.”

“(In) Washington state, we are on a really great track to get to 100% clean energy in a way that protects ratepayers,” Small said in an interview Friday afternoon. “These initiatives strike at the heart of the progress we’re trying to make on clean energy.

He added, “While they are collecting signatures, we are going to be educating the public about positive things that are happening with clean energy in the state, and if the initiative passes, what it will do to roll that back.”

If supporters can gather the necessary hundreds of thousands of signatures in the next two months, Initiative 2006 will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.