A new political committee called “Seattle for a Healthy Planet” appears to be laying the groundwork for a potential city ballot measure in 2020. But the effort is a bit of a mystery.
The name suggests the campaign may be related to the environment and climate change, and a California law firm with ties to the fossil-fuel industry registered the committee on Dec. 26. Seattle recently adopted a Green New Deal resolution and environmental advocates have been pushing the city to rapidly curb emissions.
Elli Abdoli, a partner at Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni, is listed on the registration as the committee’s treasurer, and the committee’s email address uses a Nielsen Merksamer domain name. But the law firm “is no longer involved in this project,” Abdoli said in an email, providing no other information.
The campaign manager is David Huynh and the chairman is Michael Sadowsky, according to the committee’s registration, which lists the same phone number for both. Calls to that number weren’t returned and the committee has yet to report any contributions or expenditures.
Ballot-measure committees that are registered don’t always end up collecting money and signatures.
Lobbyists for Chevron and Phillips 66 are registered in Washington by Nielsen Merksamer, and the law firm’s clients, according to its website, include Chevron, BP America, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, Exxon Mobil, Pacific Gas and Electric, Western States Petroleum Association and Californians for Energy Independence.
Nielsen Merksamer registered Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy, a nonprofit that’s lobbied for Western States and that’s been running Facebook ads in California cities against proposals to restrict the use of natural gas.
Nielsen Merksamer has served as general counsel for opponents of anti-fracking ballot measures in San Luis Obispo County, California, and Monterey County, California. The firm worked in 2018 on a Washington initiative banning soda taxes outside Seattle.
Western States isn’t involved with Seattle for a Healthy Planet, a spokeswoman said.
The Seattle Times reported last month that Washington and Oregon natural-gas companies, spooked by local proposals to curtail natural-gas use in buildings in favor of electricity, plan to spend $1 million on a public-relations campaign, starting this year, to portray their product as part of the Pacific Northwest’s clean-energy future.
The companies, including Puget Sound Energy (PSE), are forming a coalition of labor unions, businesses and consumer groups called Partners for Energy Progress to tout natural gas and to help “prevent or defeat” proposals that curb its use.
Northwest Gas Association is also involved. PSE provides electricity outside Seattle but also is a major supplier of natural gas throughout the area.
PSE and Northwest Gas Association said they don’t know anything about Seattle for a Healthy Planet. “It’s a mystery to us, too,” said Janet Kim, a PSE spokeswoman.
The Sierra Club’s Seattle chapter and the environmental organizations 350 Seattle and CarbonWA also said they don’t know anything about the committee.
Washington voters have twice in recent years rejected ballot measures that would have imposes taxes or fees on fossil-fuel emissions, though King County voters backed both measures.
The Seattle City Council last year passed a “Green New Deal” resolution, committing to eliminate fossil-fuel use in the city, and the council passed a new tax on heating oil proposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan.
Also last year, then-Councilmember Mike O’Brien proposed the city ban natural gas from new buildings starting almost immediately. O’Brien shelved the idea when PSE, some unions and other critics demanded that more analysis be done.