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Op-Ed: Inslee’s natural gas bills will increase energy costs, eliminate family-wage jobs

Our five construction trades unions, representing thousands of hardworking women and men across the state, oppose the Governor’s misguided bills on building energy use, House Bill 1767 and House Bill 1770. They will increase energy costs for homes and businesses, eliminate family-wage jobs, restrict energy choice, and put electric reliability at risk. 

These proposals reflect a disregard for data-driven, common-sense policy. They fail to meet the standard of thoughtful policies set by this Legislature in so many other landmark laws; a standard that includes careful consideration of impacts on energy reliability, energy affordability, quality careers, and the broader economy.

Washington citizens are worried about the economy and inflation rates are worse than they have been in thirty years. These proposals could compound our economic problems and lower-income earners would suffer the most. 

After the passage of landmark climate legislation last year, we wonder why some lawmakers are pushing for new policies that put average citizens in jeopardy of additional and unwarranted economic suffering for measures that will yield no appreciable benefit.

There isn’t sufficient data to warrant these proposals or an adequate understanding of their impact on the state’s ability to reliably deliver energy that people want and need. The lack of foundational energy information is why the Legislature directed the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to examine the impacts of carbon reduction policies on electric and natural gas consumers and utilities. Advancing sweeping changes to energy policy without the benefit of the UTC examination is ill-advised and puts our economy needlessly at risk.

HB 1770 would delegate major policy decisions to the State Building Codes Council, a group of Governor appointees. The bill would give an unelected board unprecedented power to require restrictive building codes that increase the cost of new housing, including multi-family housing. This is the opposite of what we should be doing in the context of our state’s housing affordability crisis. 

The other bill, HB 1767, is unconstitutional. It would allow consumer-owned electric utilities (COUs) to use ratepayer funds to replace customer appliances that don’t use electricity with those that do. In short, all customers of a COU will subsidize the purchase of new appliances for a few (see Article VIII, Section 10 of the State Constitution).

In the end, these measures do not produce any additional benefit to what is already mandated by the Climate Commitment Act (CCA), Washington’s market-based carbon reduction law passed in 2021. They are duplicative and amount to piling restrictions and costs on Washington’s energy consumers, including small businesses and underserved communities.

Forced electrification, the aim of these and similar bills, diminishes the region’s diverse energy mix and could result in grid failures like those we’ve witnessed in California and Texas. Forced electrification eliminates energy choice and risks significantly increased energy costs, harming most the most vulnerable among us. 

Instead of pursuing an “at all costs” approach to climate legislation, we believe that Washington lawmakers should focus on thoughtful, data-driven policies that promote economic growth and do not destabilize our economy. We strongly support cutting red tape, streamlining permitting processes, and creating incentives for new energy markets, like renewable hydrogen. That approach will allow a long-term, beneficial transformation of our state’s energy economy.

The gas system is an essential tool in our energy toolbox. 3.5 million Washington residents rely on it for warmth and comfort. More than 100,000 businesses and institutions that provide hundreds of thousands of quality jobs, depend on it for heat and productive energy.

We can realize our emission reduction goals faster, more reliably and more affordably by embracing innovation; by optimizing the use of the gas system – 45,000 miles of safe and reliable energy delivery infrastructure – and by decarbonizing the fuels it conveys. That is the discussion we should be having at the Legislature, one in which we will be enthusiastic participants.

Neil Hartman is government affairs director for the Washington State Association of UA Plumbers, Pipefitters and HVAC/R Service Technicians, part of a coalition opposing HB1767 and HB1770 that includes the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302, the Pacific Northwest District Council of Iron Workers, the Northwest Carpenters Union, and the Washington and Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers

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