MVCC Action Fund 2022 Candidate Questionnaire

The Methow Valley Citizens Council Action Fund is a 501c4 non-profit organization that works to protect the natural environment and rural character in the Methow Valley, and throughout the Okanogan region. We asked some of the candidates running for office in Okanogan County some questions related to issues we work on.

See below to see each candidates’ responses. Candidate responses have not been edited. If you have further questions on any of these topics, we encourage you to reach out to the candidates directly. To stay engaged in MVCC Action Fund’s ongoing advocacy, sign up here.

Okanogan County Board of Commissioners

Jon R. Neal (prefers R): Part of city government for 21 years, with the last 6 years as Mayor of Oroville. TranGo board member for 7 years, on Okanogan Council of Governments for 6 years, currently serving as Chairman. Serves on the Okanogan County Communications Advisory Board. Took over the family autobody repair business in 1992 and has worked in the industry for 40+ yrs.

Lloyd E. Caton Jr. (prefers R): served twelve years Tonasket School Boards and as Legislative Representative for the Board. He was plant and area manager for North Central Petroleum and Coleman Oil for 32 years.

Caton did not respond to requests to address the questionnaire.

Q: In your view, what are three biggest issues affecting the land, air and water in Okanogan County. If elected, and what actions do you propose to take to address them?

Neal: 1. Water rights; keeping them in the county, looking at and encouraging possible water leasing, water banking, etc. 2. Keeping as much land in private and county ownership. 3. Forest management to minimize extensive wildfires. Advocating and/or lobbying to make the best (right) decisions and outcomes for the entire county.

Okanogan County is seeing an increase in catastrophic wildfires, extended and more frequent drought, and extreme weather days.

Q: If elected, how do you plan to respond to the impacts of our changing climate in Okanogan County?

Neal: I would strongly promote fire ready living (landscaping, greenspace etc.) I would lobby for more local management control for the Forest Service and DNR. I would research and promote climate appropriate agriculture.

Q: How would you ensure that disadvantaged communities in Okanogan County do not suffer a disproportionate impact from climate change and environmental problems?

Neal: I would make sure the proper equipment (air purifiers, filters, PPE etc.) is available to all that need it.

Q: Would you work to help implement the Methow Valley’s Climate Action Plan?

Neal: Possibly, as long as all procedures are verifiable and best practices for all.

Okanogan County’s air pollution is predominantly due to smoke from wildfire, agricultural burning, outdoor burning, prescribed burning, and woodsmoke, with some contributions from dust and vehicular exhaust in larger towns.

Q: How would you work with the community to improve air quality?

Neal: Promote alternative heat sources, look to abate nuisance dust issues, improved forest management, promote increasing composting.

Okanogan County’s Comprehensive Plan is a critical tool to protect the rural character of our region, while safeguarding our limited water supply and important critical areas for fish and wildlife habitat from development.

Q; If elected, how would you work to ensure that the Okanogan Comprehensive Plan stays up to date and addresses the impacts of rapid growth in Methow Valley and other areas throughout the county? Do you support implementing the proposed Advisory Committees for the Methow Valley Sub Areas?

Neal: Comprehensive plans need to be reviewed periodically but this can be very expensive to revise and adopt. Committees can be a great asset as long as all decisions comply with all applicable rules and standards.

Q: What is your approach to ensuring affordable housing for a variety of residents?

Neal: I would support local developers by helping with infrastructure and funding grants etc. I would prefer not creating a tax burden.

The impacts of climate change on the water cycle in Methow Valley will include changes in timing, intensity, type of runoff, and the amount of infiltration into groundwater. The planning and management of the Methow Valley communities rely on adequate water availability. As water demand increases and supplies diminish, planning and policies will require the best available science to guide sound decision-making. Similarly, concentrating new water infrastructure through land use and planning leads to efficient design and lowers the cost of public investment.

Q: If elected, will you support retention of water rights in the Methow Valley through tools such as water banking? Will you also strongly oppose efforts to transfer water rights out of the valley?

Neal: A strong yes to both.

Q: If elected, will you support implementing policies and practices to protect in-stream flows as precipitation patterns change?

Neal: Yes, water is probably our greatest resource.

Q: Will you support initiating flood and drought planning in the Methow Valley, including mapping high-risk areas?

Neal: Yes.

Q: Will you support protecting aquifers and surface water through zoning in the Methow Valley that is based on water availability?

Neal: Yes.

Okanogan Public Utilites District Commissioner

Jerry Asmussen (nonpartisan)Current Okanogan PUD Commissioner representing District 3 and currently serving as Board President. Served on the Tonasket. School board for 20 years. Currently serving as a board member of the Okanogan Conservation District, appointed by the Washington State Conservation Commission. Rancher and auctioneer from Tonasket.

Joseph Enzensperger (nonpartisan):First time candidate. Owner of Enzensperger Plumbing, 30 years licensed residential plumber serving Oroville, Washington. President of the Oroville Grange.  Habitat for Humanity serving member and board member. Oroville “Citizen of the Year 2018”.

Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see implemented over the next four years to the PUD’s current approach to managing its operations and finances? If elected, how would you ensure that ratepayers are listened to and that the PUD commissioners are responsive to ratepayers?

Asmussen: The change I would like to see in the next four years is increased operational efficiency. In a large and complex operation even a small change in efficiency can make a significant difference. I will continue to strive to increase rate payer voice. I answer every phone call and email that I receive and communicate those issues to my fellow commissioners and PUD management.

Enzensperger: The sale of municipal bonds has been used to raise revenue for capital projects not funded by utility revenues. $30 million dollars in bonds were sold in 2010 and interest and principal are still being paid on this borrowing. $40 million dollars of municipal bonds were sold in 2020 will require payments of $21.4 million in Interest over the term of the bonds. Our debt ser4vice in 2023 is $4.2 million dollars There is no load growth expected in 2023. How can Okanogan County ratepayers pay these increasing costs of operation? This policy does not seem sustainable. I believe we need more than an equity management plan from an outside consultant group. We need the involvement of informed, intelligent people with experience and expertise within Okanogan County to help solve these financial problems. I believe a citizens advisory board is needed to advise the Board of Commissioners. The Public needs to be included in these decisions. Evening meetings would also be a very good idea. The public needs to be closely involved in this planning and financing process.

Many forecasters see demand for electricity growing over the next decade due to electrification and the clean energy transition.

Q: How should the PUD prepare for such transition?

Asmussen: I believe the PUD should monitor and forecast load growth possibilities and locations. By using this information the PUD can strategically invest in system infrastructure so it can sized to meet forecasted load growth and demand.

Enzensperger: First, energy efficiency must be implemented throughout the district. Heat pumps for heating and cooling, Heat pump assisted water heaters, more efficient motors and pumps, LED lighting. Insulation, doors and window upgrades. The energy saved through efficiency will go a long way toward meeting future demands for electricity. Efficiency is second largest source of energy after hydro power in the Northwest today.

Q: What actions will you take to secure federal and state funding for energy efficiency, transportation, electrification, and other clean energy solutions?

Asmussen: As a Commissioner I am an advocate for pursuing state and federal funding for the benefit of the rate payers when it is available and coincides goals and needs of the Okanogan PUD. I also believe that we should not advocate for programs that unnecessarily increase the tax burden on the Okanogan County rate payers.

Enzensperger: The PUD should be fully aware of all available Federal and State programs and actively pursue them to bring monetary resources to the county residents and to the Utility itself. This will help finance the energy upgrades needed to meet the reduced carbon standards we are trying to achieve.

Q: Would you work to help implement the Methow Valley’s Climate Action Plan?

Asmussen: I support community level actions where a community comes together to address common problems and challenges. By supporting reliable and cost effective electrical and broadband systems the PUD can be positioned towards meeting the electrical and broadband needs identified in the plan.

Enzensperger:Absolutely. The climate problem may be global but the solutions are local. Each designed to match an area and the unique community that lives there. Implementation is local and performed by the people that live there Our Public Utility should work closely and enthusiastically in these partnerships to achieve the goals that will have positive impacts climate change

Q: How would you ensure that disadvantaged communities in Okanogan County do not suffer a disproportionate impact from rate increases during this transition?

Asmussen: The economically disadvantaged are the largest disadvantaged group in Okanogan county. Through careful budgeting and thoughtful analysis we can work towards a fair and equitable PUD structure.

Enzensperger: Generally, our poorest people live in the most energy consumptive housing and pay among the highest electric costs. The PUD should recognize the inequality of this situation and bring additional resources from state and federal grant to improve the energy efficiency of these poorer residences. Anything less defeats the mission of the Public Utility.

Public utility commissions have an outsized role implementing the Inflation Reduction Act’s clean energy incentives because they dramatically reduce the cost of many clean energy technologies.

Q: If elected, will you prioritize re-examining outdated cost assumptions in planning and procurement, enabling competition to drive new investment in clean energy and retirement?

Asmussen: I am always looking for a better way of doing things, as a way to return value to the customers. However, in a highly regulated industry this can be challenging. Also, inflation and constraints on materials and labor can be confounding.

Enzensperger:Bringing the grants and tax incentives offered in the Inflation Reduction Act to Okanogan County should be a top priority of Okanogan PUD. These resources are available now and every effort to apply them here in this county should be taken. To do any less is a failure of purpose for the PUD

Q: Describe how you would take a proactive role in this community transition, and streamline the clean energy interconnection process?

Asmussen: Being proactive in a changing community can be facilitated by informing the customers of the advantages and costs with different energy approaches. By ensuring that the PUD system is reliable and has sufficient capacity, interconnections can be made in a more timely manner.

Enzensperger:Make the grant writing available and accessible to all. Provide workshops to help ratepayers complete the grant applications. Develop a list of competent contractors to do the work and help to train more local contractors to do the work. A huge increase in our skilled labor force is urgently needed. Funding for trade schools and training could be partially supplied by the PUD.

Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act requires the PUD to source 100% of its electricity from renewable or non-carbon emitting sources by 2045.

Q: How should the PUD plan to remove coal-fired generation from its energy source?

Asmussen: Coal removal is achievable, as it is a statewide goal, and all statewide power will presumably comply. Thus, the energy supply contracts can be structured to not include coal. The current sticking point is that the BPA sometimes meets peak demand with unspecified sources. We continue to advocate to BPA that their power deliveries need to be CETA compliant.

EnzenspergerWe could eliminate the need for quick ramp up coal fired power plants by building solar systems with large battery energy storage systems (BESS)that could meet sudden demand loads when they arise. These systems could be built on PUD property in conjunction with substations now owned by the PUD.

Q: Should the PUD support expanded local generation of energy from rooftop and solar while minimizing impacts to our rural character and wildlife habitat?

Asmussen: I support local generation of cost-effective energy. However, it raises many questions that need to be analyzed. Should it be in community sized facilities? Are homes suitable for rooftop solar (structurally or obstructions)? How does it affect system reliability and integrity? How does it affect power supply contracts?

Enzensperger: Without question we should build solar generation capacity throughout the county. I favor using the existing building stock already tied to the grid to mount these solar arrays. Let's keep our open natural landscapes as carbon sinks and natural systems that buffer and protect water, soil and air.

Q: Should the PUD continue as a load following customer of the Bonneville Power Administration when the contracts come up for renewal in 2028?

Asmussen: The PUD should remain as a BPA load following customer post 2028. This gives the PUD a diverse power portfolio. We have been following and providing input the new contract development. Many are concerned with how integrating new supplies from non- federal sources will be accommodated.

Enzensperger:Yes. I believe we should continue our partnership with BPA and work to reduce our load demands so we can sell out surplus power to those that have peak load demand at a profitable source of revenue for our utility.

Many well-funded federal and state programs currently support energy-efficient, safe, healthy homes through reimbursement for weatherization services, incentives and subsidies of heat pumps and even indoor air cleaning systems. Yet local organizations and installers indicate a severe labor shortage that prevents the ability to access these programs and funds.

Q: Do you support expanding rebate programs to make it more affordable for Okanogan County families to save money on utility bills by installing new electric appliances, including efficient heat pumps, water heaters, clothes dryers, stoves and ovens, as well as weatherization, insulation, lighting and windows upgrades?

Asmussen: The PUD has a vibrant conservation program.

Enzensperger: We are a poor county. Our Public Utility should do whatever is necessary to increase the efficiency in low-income households, Where the need is greatest and the equity lowest.

Q: What role should the PUD play in helping customers take advantage of these programs given the labor challenges?

Asmussen: Labor supply issues are not only a local issue but a nationwide problem across a variety of fields. In order to secure the desired skills and people, wages and opportunities need to change to support a labor transformation.

Enzensperger:The PUD should help with the grant application and help to train the new work force needed to install the needed upgrades. This was done in the past and should be imlemented again.

Congressional District 4 Representative

Dan Newhouse (R): Chairman of Congressional Western Caucus, Central Washington’s Representative in Congress since 2015. Washington State House of Representatives 2003-2009. Washington State Department of Agriculture Director. Operates an 850-acre farm near Sunnyside.

Doug White (D)Family farm; Yakima small business owner; Designed database for performance-based measurement of medical treatment; Overseas Operations manager; Global Project Manager for IBM and PwC: Multinational data solutions; Digital Marketing Agency (Hong Kong). Extensive China experience.

Newhouse did not respond to requests to address the questionnaire.

Q: Describe what you believe to be the three most important issues impacting land, air and water in the region. If elected, and what actions do you propose to take to address them?

White: As drought worsens and threatens our agricultural livelihood, water security is critical to our success as a region. Each year we face a drought that could devastate the livelihood of thousands of families and businesses they support. We have sufficient water, but our representatives have chosen to ignore this threat. Doug White is running to build sufficient water storage and secure the Odessa aquifer to protect us against drought. We have led the nation in carbon-free energy production for decades. I believe we will continue to expand into new avenues of solar, wind, SMR and energy storage. With PNNL providing the science we will continue to lead the nation. This will bring family-wage jobs to the area and diversify our tax base.

Our district is already suffering from some of the anticipated effects of a changing climate, including catastrophic wildfires, extended and more frequent drought, and extreme weather days.

Q: If elected, how do you plan to respond to the impacts of our changing climate in our region?

White: Our farmers are losing crops each year, our tree lines are receding, and we are facing increasing wildfires. Our weather patterns are changing, and we must address this immediately. CD4 is agriculturally dependent and there is no plan in place to address the severe flux in our weather. We are also the leader in the nation for carbon-free energy production and science. Thus, we are in a position to lead the nation in creating new and sustainable energy that will bring family wage jobs into our district.

Q: How would you ensure that disadvantaged communities do not suffer a disproportionate impact from climate change and environmental problems?

White: Congress has stopped getting anything done for the country and for Central Washington, this includes our disadvantage communities. Partisanship, extremism, and special interest money have kept Congress from getting results, and our current Congressman has not shown the ability to get anything done for our area. I am Washington farmer and small businessman not a politician.

Q: Would you work to support local communities to enact climate plans (such as the Methow Valley’s Climate Action Plan)?

White: I would support local communities' efforts to make decisions that positively impact climate.

Many studies have concluded that the Inflation Reduction Act, coupled with the investment provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, could help the US unleash clean energy, reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, create new jobs, and drive down greenhouse gas emissions. Taken together, the studies conclude that these complementary investments will make crucial progress in addressing the climate crisis.

Q: Did you support enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act? If not, please state your reasons.

White: Yes.

Q: Did you support enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act?  If not, please state your reasons.

White: Yes.

Q: With these and other new funding opportunities for climate solutions in rural communities, what opportunities do you see for our district to advance clean energy and reduce dependence on expensive fossil fuels?

White: Infrastructure in rural Central Washington is crumbling: our roads, bridges, internet, rail, dams, waterways, and power grid need critical investment now. I will work to ensure that we receive funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Invent and Jobs Act and bring those home to Central Washington to invest in our future.

Okanogan County has some of the worst year-round air pollution in the state, predominantly due to smoke from wildfire, agricultural burning, outdoor burning, prescribed burning, and woodsmoke, with some contributions from dust and vehicular exhaust in larger towns.

How would you work with the community to improve air quality?

White: I think local communities understand how to addresses issues in their own backyards. My door will always be open to the residents of Okanogan County if I am elected to represent the 4th CD and I would look forward to assisting at the Federal level wherever I can.

Forests full of big, old trees are highly effective at trapping climate-warming greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it away. Similarly, farming practices that promote regeneration of soil and a diversity of crops can also help store carbon.

Do you support federal efforts to promote natural climate solutions, such as protecting old forests, and promoting regenerative agriculture practices?

White: Yes.


The MVCC Action Fund appreciates the candidates that took the time to respond to these questions and their commitment to the people of Okanogan County!