Supporters rally for natural gas initiative at ‘super signing’ event in Centralia


Supporters of an initiative to curtail Washington’s movement away from natural gas use in homes and other buildings rallied on the streets of Centralia ahead of a deadline to submit enough signatures to qualify the proposal for the November ballot.

“What we love about these policy points is that it’s the people driving the issue,” GOP Chairman and state Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said Thursday. “And any politician should tread very carefully to undo something the people have demanded.”

Organizers must submit at least 324,516 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office by 5 p.m. on July 5, a figure Walsh said Thursday he is confident they will reach.

According to Walsh, who is also the state GOP chairman, organizers have more than 300,000 signatures in hand, and have targeted collecting 500,000 for a “strong statement.”

“I don’t think we want to sound like we’re spiking the football, but at the rate things are going, we’re very close to qualifying now,” Walsh said. “And we just want that high number above to make a statement.”

If organizers secure enough signatures, the initiative would appear next to three other voter initiatives — Initiative 2109 to repeal the capital gains tax, Initiative 2117 to repeal the Climate Commitment Act, and Initiative 2124 to allow more people to opt out of the state’s long-term care program.

Initiative 2066 would bar local jurisdictions 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,” according to The Washington Standard.

“To me, it’s about consumer choice. And this is protecting consumer choice about an energy source,” Walsh said. “I’m old enough, I remember when natural gas was considered a clean and green energy option. And lately, the rhetoric has changed around that.”

The event drew fellow state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, who said the move away from natural gas was broadly unpopular. At the event, Abbarno said the state must embrace a “diverse energy portfolio.”

In their remarks, the lawmakers pointed to a variety of uses for natural gas, which ranged from restaurant usage to school laboratories.

“It’s about consumer choice, but it’s also super regressive in communities like ours where a lot of people in Lewis County rely on natural gas as a heating source,” Abbarno said. “So I think it hits people, especially the people who can least afford to pay for these types of policies. This is kind of an environmental policy that’s operating in a silo without any recognition of the economic impacts on the poor and marginalized communities.”

Abbarno, who said he uses natural gas in his Centralia home, said consumers would have few options to pay the conversion costs to other energy sources. A representative for the Building Industry Association of Washington estimated that costs could range from $40,000 to $70,000 for the average home conversion.

“If you can’t afford that conversion, what’s the state going to do, are they going to start policing your ability to stay warm?” Abbarno said.