'Environmental radicalism': WA Republicans decry passage of natural gas ban bill

Opponents of the legislation say it will lead to the banning of natural gas, forcing residents to pay exorbitant costs to convert to electricity.

Legislation dubbed by some as the "natural gas ban bill" and a "hot mess" by Lt. Gov. Denny Heck last week, passed the Washington State Legislature early Wednesday morning.

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

Because the Senate passed an amended version of the bill, ESHB 1589 returned to the House of Representatives for further consideration. Just after 2 a.m. on Wednesday, House Democrats passed the bill on a 50-45 vote.

Opponents of the legislation say it will lead to the banning of natural gas, forcing residents to pay exorbitant costs to convert to electricity.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, left the final roll call vote open until she could convince concerned members of her own party to pass the bill.

Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, spoke with The Center Square about the legislation Wednesday morning.

“It’s very clear if you go back to the lieutenant governor’s ruling on what was wrong with the bill and that we needed to reference all these other statutes that were being affected, they needed to hit the pause button," he said.

Braun continued his broadside against the bill and how it was passed.

“But what they did instead was go get a quickie opinion from the attorney general and say, 'No, it’s okay,'" he said. “Nobody gets an opinion from the AG overnight. This is absolutely 100% political.”

Braun didn't mince words in describing how he believes Jinkins came up with the final votes to pass ESHB 1589.

“They didn’t have the votes on final passage as I understand it, so they just kept the vote open, and the speaker can just bring people into her office one at a time, and work people over until they cave at two in the morning," he said.

Rep. Beth Doglio, D-Olympia, spoke in favor of the bill as floor debate continued into the early morning hours.

“This bill is a tool assisting the state’s largest utility provider [PSE] in meeting their existing legal obligations," she said. "It helps them meet their 2030 clean energy act obligations.”

She explained the measure allows PSE to look at their system holistically and make plans for what to present to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission in terms of public process and the best path forward to maintaining the lowest rates possible.

But opponents, including every Republican in the House and Senate, continue to argue power bills will skyrocket under the legislation.

“As usual, their understanding of environmental policy is completely emotional, it’s completely shallow and it’s bumper-sticker mentality," Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, told The Center Square. “They want to be able to say they killed natural gas, which is so dumb. This is absolute Orwellian nonsense."

He said he was told that Gov. Jay Inslee was calling individual Democrat holdouts as the debate continued into the wee hours of the morning and "threatening to veto their little pet bills unless they got in line and voted yes on this.”

Walsh went on to say, “This man, the current governor, is so dumb and so simple that he will sacrifice his own allies at the altar of environmental radicalism.”

“Inslee has put several members of their caucus in danger of being unelected by forcing them to take this bad vote,” he said. “How the Democrats didn’t toss this guy off years ago, I’ll never understand.”

Walsh said there were between four and six Democrats unwilling to support the bill until pressure from Inslee and Jinkins.

Assuming the bill is signed into law by Inslee, there will most likely be legal challenges, Walsh said, noting that in the meantime, since an emergency clause has been attached, power bills could go up immediately.