400,000 signatures: Voters may decide Washington’s climate law future

Nov 21, 2023, 7:42 PM | Updated: Nov 22, 2023, 11:53 am

Washington Democrats initiatives...

Hedge fund owner and Let's Go Washington founder Brian Heywood can be seen at a Shell gas station in Kent on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. (Photo: Kate Stone, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Kate Stone, KIRO Newsradio)

Corrections and clarifications: A previous version of this story misidentified Washington’s secretary of state. The story also has clarified the three possible next steps the state legislature can take once an initiative gets enough certified signatures.

The future of Washington’s carbon emissions laws may be decided by voters.

On Tuesday, backers of an effort to repeal the state’s carbon market announced they have enough signatures to put it before lawmakers and, possibly, voters next November.

The citizens’ advocacy group “Let’s Go Washington” turned in more than 400,000 signatures for Initiative 2117. The measure’s supporters say it would repeal the climate law — which they blame for high gas prices in Washington.

Standing outside a Shell gas station in Kent, hedge fund owner and Let’s Go Washington founder Brian Heywood said they have more than the minimum 324,516 valid signatures needed — packed in boxes and loaded into a truck, which the group then delivered to the Secretary of State Steve Hobbs’ office in Tumwater to be verified.

Heywood says residents are suffering from the hidden gas tax passed as part of the state’s Climate Commitment Act (CCA).

“It’s completely irresponsible to create what amounts to a triple tax to the cost of gas, heating, and groceries when inflation is already sending the daily cost of life through the roof,” Heywood said. “(Washington Gov.) Jay Inslee said it would cost pennies. Then people saw their bills going up at the pump, at home and at the store.”

The CCA, passed in 2021, created a carbon market for greenhouse gas emissions, forcing businesses to buy credits at auction to cover the costs of their pollution. The law has generated passionate debate over balancing the need to address climate change with the economic impacts on consumers.

More from Kate Stone: State officials spar over impact of climate act on gas prices as drivers pay up

At the center of the conflict—whether the CCA has contributed to Washington’s prices at the pump, currently the third highest in the country. On Tuesday, the statewide average was approximately $4.43 a gallon for regular gas, the American Automobile Association reported. The U.S. average was about $3.30 per gallon.

View from Washington lawmakers

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and other supporters of the CCA say price gouging, particularly by oil and gas companies, is to blame for increased prices. Last summer, State Senator Joe Nguyễn, D-White Center, and House Majority Leader Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle, promised to introduce legislation to require more transparency from oil companies.

But on Tuesday, Nguyễn and Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee Marko Liias, D-Everett, said the Democratic-controlled state House and Senate are committed to Washington’s climate laws.

“We can’t stop our climate progress,” Nguyễn said. “We need to defeat climate change and rein in the pollution that the oil and gas industry is causing across our state and nation —the Climate Commitment Act is how we make that happen.”

But Heywood and others say, regardless of inflation, the CCA has ensured prices will stay higher than average.

“This is an unpopular bill. People hate it,” Heywood said. “The actual the blessing here is that people have actually seen the negative impact it had on their lives.”

Recent report: Nearly 40% of drivers canceled summer travel plans due to high gas prices

What happens next

If the initiative gets enough certified signatures, it would be forwarded to the state legislature for review.

As noted by the Office of Secretary of State’s Elections Division (head here for the PDF), once an initiative is submitted, lawmakers must take one of the following three actions:

• The legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed and it becomes law without a vote.

• Lawmakers may reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative and the initiative needs to be placed on the ballot at the next state general election, which is in November 2024.

• Legislators may propose a different measure dealing with the same subject and both measures must be placed on the next state general election ballot.

I-2117 is one of six measures Heywood is attempting to push forward. The others include a repeal of the law on gender-affirming care for youth and the state capital gains tax, as a measure that removes some restrictions on police pursuits. Each measure is being presented separately, and Let’s Go Washington is continuing to collect signatures to qualify before the Dec. 29 deadline.

Heywood says it’s time for voters to decide on the critical issues in Washington—not state lawmakers.

“The party’s over. We’re fixing this mess.”

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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400,000 signatures: Voters may decide Washington’s climate law future