OLYMPIA – A bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-Whatcom) to direct utilities to fix leaks in natural gas infrastructure passed the state legislature this week with wide bipartisan margins. HB 2518 will save consumers money, create reliable jobs for pipefitters, and reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
“Imagine if you went to a gas station and watched the pump charge you for 5 gallons of gasoline, but your car only ended up with 4 gallons in the tank,” said Shewmake. “That’s what’s happening in our natural gas pipes right now, because old state laws allow natural gas companies to pass the costs of any gas that leaks out of cracked pipes along to consumers. Meanwhile, these same laws don’t give the utilities good options for financing repairs to leaks. That’s backwards.”
Shewmake credits the idea for the bill to a groundbreaking economics paper written by Dr. Catherine Hausman, an economist at the University of Michigan. Dr. Hausman’s research found not only that the incentives for utilities are backwards, but that when the human costs of climate change are factored into a cost-benefit analysis, the case for fixing leaks becomes urgent.
When asked about Shewmake’s bill, Hausman said, “Natural gas leaks can waste economic resources and worsen climate change. I applaud state efforts to identify cost-effective ways to reduce these emissions.”
HB 2518 reforms the incentives for natural gas companies by asking them to complete a cost-benefit analysis on every leak. To do this, a utility would look at a specific leak and compare the cost of fixing it to the sum of three factors: the dollar value of the escaping gas, the damage that gas is doing to the climate, and human safety concerns. If the benefits are greater than the costs of the repair, the utility is required to fix the leak.
The bill also improves transparency because it includes an overhaul of the way natural gas companies disclose information to the public.
Shewmake first proposed this idea during the last legislative session, which ended in April 2019, but it took eight months of negotiations with climate advocates, natural gas companies, and legislators from both sides of the aisle to reach an agreement on final language.
HB 2518 passed the House on February 16 with a vote of 87 to 8 and the Senate on March 5 with a vote of 41 to 7. It is on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for a final signature.
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Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham (42nd Legislative District), represents most of Whatcom County, including Blaine, Ferndale, Lynden, Sumas, and part of Bellingham, and extending east to Mt. Baker, North Cascades National Park, and Ross Lake.
(Credit: Washington State LSS)