Lefty senators band together to stall bill that would weaken a voter-approved renewable energy initiative. But conservative senators, led by the Democratic Roadkill Caucus, band together to pass it.

Last month, we reported on a move by legislators to weaken 2006's voter-approved renewable energy initiative (I-937)—which required utilities to have 15 percent of their energy load coming from new renewable energy sources by 2020 (with check-ins along the way, including three percent by 2012). The meddling legislation would broaden the definition of “biomass energy facilities” so that facilities can count things like wood pulp as “renewable energy sources.”

The intent of I-937 was to encourage new renewables like wind and solar power, not environmentally problematic sources like wood products.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Brian Hatfield (D-19, Raymond, Grays Harbor, and Pacific County), ran into a wall of unfriendly amendments on Wednesday, offered by the senate's liberal duo—Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34, West Seattle) and Sen. Maralyn Chase (D-32, Shoreline). Ultimately, though, the bill passed 28-19 during Thursday's floor session.

Hatfield, a member of the ad-hoc conservative Democratic caucus (the self-described Roadkill Caucus) was joined by eight other Democrats, including Roadkillers, Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), Jim Hargrove (D-24, Hoquiam), Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch), Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano Island), Paull Shin (D-21, Edmonds), and sudden conservative convert Craig Pridemore (D-49, Vancouver) who teamed up with 19 of the 22 GOP senators—passing the bill to change the voter-approved initiative over a thinned-out Democratic caucus.

Republicans Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond) and Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island) voted 'No' and one Republican was excused.

For the record, the Democrats, led by majority leader, Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) headed up the effort to alter I-937 in 2009 and 2010, but those efforts, while also making biomass count, centered around counting hydro as renewable energy (something this legislation doesn't do). Hydro was priority for Spokane's Avista Corp. Spokane's Sen. Brown voted "No" on the bill this year.

The bill makes environmentalists' stomachs turn because it allows older energy production facilities—like a fiber liquor pulping plant in Longview—to qualify as renewable technology and stay in operation. Proponents, like Hatfield, argue that shutting down certain biomass facilities in "economically depressed areas" would destroy jobs and hurt the economy, arguing that workers need help as soon as possible. Indeed, another Democrat voting to support the bill was longtime labor Democrat Sen. Steve Conway (D-29, S. Tacoma).

During Hatfield's 2008 election cycle, he raked in contributions from Weyerhaeuser and, yes, Avista—two corporations that spent thousands of dollars opposing I-937 in 2006.

Nelson and Chase, both in the house last year, are emerging as the senate's lefty cannon fodder (they teamed up in the senate government operations committee earlier this session to stall a bill that would have delayed Growth Management Act guidelines). This week, they teamed up again in an effort to sabotage Hatfield's bill, proposing eighteen amendments in total. One, offered by Nelson, would have completely gutted the bill.

Nelson argued that "the citizens were clear in I-937 as to their intent," adding "rarely do we question the will of the people and say that they did not understand what they were voting for and change their intent." Nelson also introduced an amendment that would submit the bill to voters as a referendum (clever). Legislators loudly rejected that.

Two of Chase's amendments would have counted the electrical output from biomass energy facilities at half the level of other forms of electricity and another would have required solar power to be weighted six times as much. Chase called the bill a "bad bill," at one point saying that she had "so many amendments it's hard to keep track."

Hatfield tells PubliCola he was "not surprised [by all the amendments]. I've been on the other side of that situation, and it's what you do when you honestly disagree."

Hatfield says he's A-OK changing a voter-approved initiative (he voted to suspend I-960 last year in order to raise revenues). "The problem with legislating by initiative," he says, "is that it's a yes or no vote without amendments, and I-937 didn't recognize or credit existing forms of renewable energy like wood products."

After the bill passed, Hatfield issued the following statement:

Senate Bill 5575 may make the difference between success and failure for the few plants it applies to. It affects seven centers across the state—all of which would be forced to reduce their workforce should the state continue to not recognize their production of renewable energy ... To lose any of these plants would be devastating to not just the thousands directly employed, but also for entire local business communities that depend upon these plants as economic hubs."

Among the plants, the Longview Fibre plant mentioned earlier, SDS Lumber in Klickitat, and a Weyerhaeuser plant in Cowlitz County.

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