The Art of Lobbying

I was relatively nonchalant about my first lobbying attempt until I was lost in the Legislative Building in the neatly groomed State Capitol campus. Wandering around the building, desperately trying to locate Room 436B (or the bathroom), I realized this was my first attempt at lobbying.

For our final assignment, I decided to take on the task of talking to a local Representative regarding House Joint Resolution 4200 (and the similar Senate Bill 5294) – changing state constitution to recognize hydropower as renewable resources. Introduced by Representative Haler (R-Richland), HJR 4200 aims to include hydropower into the definition of renewable resources, and thus be counted toward the required percentage stated in Initiative 937. Rep. Haler argued that the exclusion caused increase in cost of electricity. This in turn makes Washington State less attractive to business owners and potential investors.

While it seems like a no-brainer to list hydropower as a renewable resource, this bill is actually more convoluted that it appears. In 2006, Washington State voters approved Initiative 937, requiring utilities with at least 250,000 customers to buy at least 3% power from eligible renewable resources (e.g., wind, solar, but excluding hydroelectric) by 2012. The percentage will increase to 9% in 2016, and 15% by 2020. The initiative aimed to increase investment in renewable power sources while reducing our dependency on existing ones, such as gas, coal and hydro. Since 72% of power in the state comes from hydropower plants, hydroelectricity was excluded from the list of eligible resources. Therefore, including hydropower back into the eligible list defeats the original purpose of Initiative 937. More importantly, I feel it is a deliberate attempt to re-write voters approved initiative using misrepresentation and distortion of facts.

With those in mind, I contacted the aide to Representative Pederson (District 43) in the hope of a meeting. Since the Rep. was in meetings most of the day, I was able to meet with his aide, Katy Buck, on 3/4/13 at 1:30pm.  After wandering the 4th floor for a while, I finally asked the guards for help. With their directions, I managed to find the right office, and met with both Katy and Miranda Leskinen, the aide to speaker of the House, Representative Frank Chopp.

HJR currently states: “The state of Washington already has an abundance of renewable energy including low-cost renewable hydroelectric generation. Recognizing this energy generation source as renewable will stabilize energy prices for Washington residents and protect clean and water.”

I explain to both Katy and Miranda that I believe:

  1. Initiative 937 is an attempt to encourage development of other renewable energy that the state has not been using;
  2. Upgrade to existing hydropower system is counted in the existing constitution;
  3. There is a need for diversification;
    1. According to Washington State Integrated Climate Response Published in April 2012, Climate change will reduce snow pack and glacier.
    2. Decrease Spring snowpack by 29%, leading to earlier winter peak flow,
    3. Reduce summer flow, hence reduction in power generation in summer (highest demand),
    4. There has not been an increase in cost of power
      1. National Public Radio report on October 2011 rank WA as third lowest power cost in US,
      2. According to report by Bureau of Labor Statistics on January 2013, Seattle pay less for electricity than most US states. For the past 5 years, Seattle’s average electricity priced 27% to 38% below national Average.

Therefore, the House and Senate should not pass the HJR and Senate Bill in regards to recognizing Hydropower as a renewable energy source.

Both Katy and Miranda were extremely pleasant and attentive to my rumbling speech. They took plenty of notes, and asked some relevant questions on my understanding of hydro-power, history of Initiative 937, and why I found this issue to be important. They were both very supportive of diversification. However, both stated that their Representatives are not on the Energy Committee, where the HJR was being discussed. In fact, Miranda told me that the Resolution never made it passed the Committee discussion this year, and so it will remain on the docket. It could be brought up again next year, if the Republicans in the House deem it to have a better chance of passing. She also assured me the HJR is a long shot with the current political climate. The Democrats control the House, and the focus is more on budgets, transportation, etc. She stated that the Senate Bill remains in the committee, and it has a higher likelihood of moving forward since the Senate is controlled by Republicans. On hearing that I am actually a licensed engineer, we went on to discuss transportation issues, such as the latest transportation bill.

The whole process took about 25 minutes, and I was extremely impressed by both aides. They were professional, knowledgeable and personable. Both kindly said I should visit them again to follow up on renewable energy, transportation issues, and the ASCE score cards (coming out in April 2013).  While it was just a short meeting, I learned a great deal about the lobbying process. I hope to follow up with both Representatives next year, when the House Resolution may pass through the Energy Committee.

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About Chen

In the beginning….Chen wants to do something special before it’s too late. This Blog is set up in an attempt to document this trip. However, knowing that he is easily distracted (because I have an attention span of a 12 yrs old…..wait, did I just switch from 3rd person to 1st person?), there is no promise this blog will be consistent. Enter at your own risk (and frustration).

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