Over the past several weeks, we have received a lot of questions and complaints about various Public Utility Districts (PUDs) that have been distributing printed and online material regarding their opposition to Initiative 732. While it seems strange to many of you that a public utility can use ratepayer money to try to influence a political campaign, our state law, RCW 42.17A.555, does allow for this practice. A public utility commission can voice its opposition to an initiative, so long as they pass a public resolution and provide equal opportunity for the expression of both viewpoints.
RCW 42.20.040 does prohibit public officials from knowingly distributing a false report — so do keep sending us copies of any mailers or postings you receive, especially if you think there is purposefully misleading information. While utilities are allowed to distribute information about the policy, as well as their opinion, many of their statements do not seem to offer a balanced or complete description of the policy in I-732. We believe the intent of the law is to allow the utility to distribute balanced information and an opinion — not one-sided and partial descriptions of a policy proposal.
Some particular concerns include:
To our concerned supporters, we urge you to not lash out at your utilities because of their position. Just inform us if you think they are distributing false information. If you wish to provide a critique, please do so in a constructive and professional manner — everyone is entitled to their opinion.
We are all disappointed that many of our cleanest utilities, who will pay the least carbon tax of any energy providers in our state, have failed to recognize the competitive advantage I-732 creates for them. Instead, many have joined the predictable position of other energy providers opposing any tax on the product they sell. We hope PUDs will do a better job in the future to avoid promoting the misconception that their customers will have less money in their pocket because of I-732, when in reality most PUD customers likely come out financially ahead, not behind, due to this tax swap.
Rather than lashing out, a more constructive message to send your utility might be: Please reconsider your opposition to I-732. As your customer I am happy to pay more for electricity while paying less for everything else that is exposed to the state sales tax. More importantly, I believe it is essential that we pass an economy-wide price on carbon so the dirtiest polluters in our state are motivated to change their behavior and stop damaging the health and well-being of our children and future generations.
The cost of climate change is expected to reach $3.8 billion per year in Washington by 2020. These include cost that will directly affect utilities including: $150M in reduced hydropower generation, and $44M in increased transmission costs due to higher temperatures. The cost of inaction that your commission and other energy companies are promoting will create massive damage to our society, damage that can be reduced in a cost-effective manner by passing Initiative 732. I would appreciate your including the cost of inaction in any future information you distribute on this topic and hope you re-consider your position on I-732.