Success Stories

With Advocacy Everywhere, Spokane Association of REALTORS® Fends Off City Plan to Phase Out Natural Gas Usage

December 2021

“You have to fill the swimming pool before you jump in.”

That’s what Darin Watkins’ grandfather used to say, and that’s what springs to mind when the Spokane Association of REALTORS®’ Government Affairs Director reflects on the City Council’s recent attempt to eliminate consumer usage of natural gas within the city.  The drastic measure proposed in Spokane’s draft Sustainability Action Plan may have been well-intentioned, but it didn’t address the issue of how residents were supposed to be heating their homes.  There was no water in the swimming pool.

Although Spokane is blessed with lots of hydro-electric power, explains Watkins, it can’t supply all the city’s needs, and more than 70% of the market uses natural gas for heat, including all the region’s hospitals. The proposed reduction of natural gas, beginning with an immediate suspension of all new gas appliance permits, an abrupt timeline for eliminating natural gas from all commercial and residential construction, and the eventual phasing out of all gas for consumer use was presented as an environmental good, but didn’t account for the problems it would cause in human terms.  “We were seeing projections that electric bills could double and even triple in the wake of such a ban,” says Watkins.  “If you’re going to do something like this, you’d better have alternative power sources ready and make sure residents can afford it.”

The Spokane Association of REALTORS® had formed a coalition, spent months lobbying, conducted extensive polling with support from the REALTOR® Party, and even secured an Issues Mobilization Grant – which they were unable to use, when the initiative was pulled from a public ballot. Instead, the collective voice of Spokane REALTORS® in a Call-to-Action was what finally grabbed the City Council’s attention. Of the approximately 800 REALTOR® members within the city limits, about 300 answered the call within the span of an hour on a Monday morning.

“We were really surprised at the outpouring of REALTOR® voices,” said Spokane Association of REALTORS® President Eric Johnson. “The result was that our City Council took immediate action to remove the troubling language from their plan.”  The association had been poised to add the power of several thousand more opposition voices from the consumer database, but this proved unnecessary.

The Spokane REALTORS® are now focused on taking positive steps to reduce carbon emissions.  They’re talking with partners about numerous solutions such as helping families upgrade to more fuel-efficient furnaces and improving weatherization, both of which have been long-supported by the local electric utilities as a key step towards reducing carbon emissions, while saving people money.  Watkins adds, “Our polling has shown that Spokane citizens favor things like incentives, encouraging sustainable business practices, electric vehicle charging stations, and bike lanes.  And if the city really wants to have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, we should develop more affordable housing, near where people work.”  He cites recent Washington State Department of Transportation data revealing a sharp uptick in commuters traveling across the border from Idaho, where more homes are available, resulting in a major carbon footprint increase from daily commuter traffic – to the tune of about 30% in just the past two years, as buyers look elsewhere for affordable homes.  Spokane, he notes, currently has a housing supply of only four-to-six weeks.

To learn more about how the Spokane Association of REALTORS® is working to make the Spokane area more energy efficient without sacrificing natural gas, contact Government Affairs Director Darin Watkins at dwatkins@spokanerealtor.com or 509.326.9222.

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