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Builders launch initiative to block Washington’s natural gas phase-out

They must gather thousands of signatures by July 5 to get it on this year’s ballot.

By Jerry Cornfield, Washington State Standard
Published: May 16, 2024, 9:38am

Backers of an initiative to halt the state’s push to end natural gas use in homes and other buildings began gathering signatures Wednesday after a Thurston County judge settled a dispute on how the measure would be described on ballots.

Initiative 2066, sponsored by the Building Industry Association of Washington, repeals provisions of a new state law meant to hasten Puget Sound Energy’s transition away from natural gas. It also bars cities and counties from prohibiting, penalizing or discouraging “the use of gas for any form of heating, or for uses related to any appliance or equipment, in any building.”

And the measure would effectively nullify recent changes to Washington’s energy code designed to get more electric heat pumps installed in newly built houses, apartments and commercial buildings. It specifically says the state code “may not in any way prohibit, penalize, or discourage the use of gas for any form of heating, or for uses related to any appliance or equipment, in any building.”

“This initiative preserves the choice of natural gas for consumers,” said Greg Lane, BIAW’s executive vice president. “This doesn’t prohibit people from going to electrification. There should be an option for consumers to stick with natural gas.”

BIAW, the state’s leading voice for the homebuilding industry, is spearheading the effort. The Washington Hospitality Association, Washington Realtors and Associated General Contractors are also in the coalition behind the measure that will engage in signature-gathering.

Let’s Go Washington, which qualified the three Republican-backed measures state voters are already set to decide in November, will be involved too, Lane said. But he added: “We’re not relying on them. This is not a Let’s Go Washington initiative.”

To get on the ballot, supporters must submit signatures of at least 324,516 registered voters to the Secretary of State’s Office by 5 p.m. on July 5. It is recommended that at least 405,000 signatures be turned in to allow for invalid signatures.

If successful, voters in November will weigh in on the state’s combination of regulations and laws to move as swiftly as possible away from natural gas toward technology like heat pumps in new developments.

For example, the changes to the energy code, approved last year by the Washington State Building Code Council, offer builders incentives in the permitting process for choosing electric heat pumps – which provide both heating and cooling in the same unit – instead of natural gas furnaces.

Supporters hailed the new codes, which took effect in March, as vital to helping the state slash carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency in buildings. Opponents warned the changes will drive up costs for builders, homebuyers and renters.

The initiative, if passed, will restore a process that does not favor heat pumps over natural gas.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, submitted three initiatives of his own, all focused on repealing the law allowing PSE to create a future path away from natural gas. While any could be circulated as well, he said Wednesday he’s on board with pursuing the BIAW measure.

“This is exciting. Our coalition partners believe this version of the natural gas choice initiative is the best one. So, game on,” said Walsh, who is also chair of the state Republican Party.

‘Very pleased’

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Allyson Zipp settled a challenge of language drafted by the state attorney general for the 10-word “statement of subject” and 30-word “concise description” that would appear on ballots for the BIAW measure.

Three environmental groups – Climate Solutions, Washington Conservation Action and NW Energy Coalition – contested the language and offered alternative verbiage for Zipp to adopt.

Zipp, in the course of a two-hour hearing, crafted solutions both sides could agree on.

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She amended the subject statement from “concerns natural gas regulations” to “concerns regulating energy services, including natural gas and electrification.

And for the concise description, Zipp approved, “This measure would repeal or prohibit certain laws and regulations that discourage natural gas use, and/or promote electrification, and require certain utilities and local governments to provide natural gas to eligible customers.”

Lane said he was “very pleased” with the outcome because it was reflective of what the initiative does.

Kai Smith, an attorney representing the environmental groups, said what the judge ordered will let voters know impacts from the measure extend beyond natural gas.

“I think the improvements she ordered were in the right direction,” said Smith, a partner with the Pacifica Law Group. “It’s not just about natural gas. It’s about promoting electrification and clean energy.”


Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

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