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Washington lawmaker on what’s next in carbon auction whistleblower controversy

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(The Center Square) – A Washington lawmaker says a legal complaint over officials allegedly telling a state economist to lie about his math regarding the state’s carbon auction could prove revealing.

Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, is the ranking minority member on the House Transportation Committee. He told The Center Square that he’s less surprised that people within state government didn’t see the effect of Washington’s Climate Commitment Act but more so over allegations of censorship.

“I actually wasn’t really that shocked,” he said. “Knowing these numbers, it’s not a surprise that it was discovered. It’s disconcerting that an employee who was trying to do his job was told not to.”

At issue is Tumwater resident Michael Smith. The 64-year-old worked as an economist with the Department of Transportation. When Smith calculated a 40 to 50-cent-per-gallon increase in gas due to the carbon auction, he alleges in his complaint that state workers pressured him to keep that to himself or lie about it.

“On January 18, 2023, at around 10:10 a.m., my client met with Mr. Nguyen Dang (a temporary supervisor) who informed him that management ‘would prefer’ that he not include the cap-and-trade surcharges in his quarterly fuel price forecast,” Attorney Jackson Maynard wrote on behalf of Smith. “By ‘management,’ my client understood that Mr. Nguyen was referring to Ms. Amber Coulson, WSDOT’s Financial and Planning Manager, and Mr. Eric Hansen of the Governor’s Office of Financial Management.”

Inslee’s office didn’t offer other details initially but later said the state official named in Smith’s letter had “no recollection” of those interactions with the economist.

Barkis said that Inslee’s office must now supply attorneys with records.

“They’re going to have to produce the documents … with specific names of the people within the agency that he worked with,” Harkis said. “That’s where the investigation comes in.”

Under the 2021 law, emitters must obtain “emissions allowances” equal to their covered greenhouse gas emissions at quarterly auctions hosted by the Department of Ecology. Three quarterly carbon auctions and two Allowance Price Containment Reserve auctions held this year have brought in some $1.6 billion. The next quarterly auction is set for Dec. 6.

In the meantime, lawmakers are pre-filing legislation to tweak the program they predicted was going to hit commuters hard.

“We were shouting from the rooftops. This policy is going to affect the consumer,” Barkis said. “We’re going to see it directly at the top, and we had almost identical numbers to what this economist came up with, and it kept being dismissed over and over.”

The law also drew a ballot challenge from opponents. On Nov. 21, the heads of “Let’s Go Washington” submitted more than 420,000 signatures for a proposition that would nullify the CCA.

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