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Investigation into whistleblower complaint over gas price predictions moves ahead slowly

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(The Center Square) – A month after the attorney for a former Washington State Department of Transportation employee filed a whistleblower complaint, a public records request from the plaintiff’s attorney involving several state agencies has yet to yield any response.

“We’ve had some contact with WSDOT representatives [investigator] and we’re still waiting for any further response to our public records requests with the Office of Financial Management and the Governor’s Office,” said attorney Jackson Maynard, who is representing former WSDOT economist Scott Smith.

Maynard confirmed that an investigator assigned to the claim did request an interview with Smith about the allegations, but that interview has yet to happen.

“I have been contacted by other state agency employees with similar concerns about pressure to cover things up,” Maynard said.

Smith claims he was retaliated against and eventually pushed out of his job for telling the truth about the state’s hotly contested cap-and-trade program that went into effect at the beginning of 2023.

As previously reported by The Center Square, Smith claims state workers pressured him to keep to himself or lie about his calculations that cap-and-trade carbon auctions would raise gas prices by 40-to-50 cents per gallon.

In the meantime, some state lawmakers are looking ahead to the legislative session that starts next Monday and how they can ensure transparency and accountability for taxpayers when it comes to inflated gas prices tied to the 2021 Climate Commitment Act, sweeping legislation that directs the Department of Ecology to implement a cap-and-trade program to cut carbon pollution.

“We can’t push it too hard because there is pending legal action,” said Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia.

He went on to say, “I believe if in fact this information does come out, we certainly should convene legislative oversight to look into it all, absolutely. It’s the job of the Legislature to investigate things like this and take action to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Gov. Jay Inslee is on record stating he thought cap-and-trade’s impact on fuel prices would be minimal.

The Center Square reached out to the Governor’s Office for any updated comment on Smith’s accusations.

“To date our office has nothing that would substantiate these allegations,” Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk said in an email. “WSDOT is still conducting an internal investigation, not sure if you’re aware of that.”

“If it [the complaint] doesn’t get a hearing, it will just go to the point of, dare I say misinformation, the general agenda to keep people in the dark when it comes to the actual cost of these programs,” Barkis said.

Washington’s cap-and-trade program is under fire from several directions.

A citizen initiative has been filed to eliminate the program. Supporters of Initiative-2117 to the Legislature turned in what they contend will be more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

A bill sponsored by Barkis would require the state Department of Agriculture to place stickers on all gas pumps breaking down gas taxes to include what consumers are paying for under the CCA.

Another bill – this one sponsored by Rep. Drew MacEwan, R-Shelton – would require utility companies to line-item CCA taxes on monthly statements.

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