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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 07, 2003
AG Seeks Talks to Address Dispute over Yakama Utility Assessment


OLYMPIA – The Attorney General’s Office today petitioned the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) to establish negotiations aimed at addressing a dispute over the nature of a utility assessment levied by the Yakama Nation.

The Attorney General’s Public Counsel section filed a petition with the WUTC asking it to establish a collaborative process in which interested parties and commission staff would attempt to address the disagreement.

On Aug. 6, the Yakama Nation adopted an ordinance requiring utilities to enter into franchise agreements with the tribe in order to continue providing service on the reservation. Under the agreements, utilities were required to pay a monthly fee based on 3 percent of their gross operating revenues.

Utilities generally spread the cost of franchise fees among all of their customers across the state.

However, two utilities, Cascade Natural Gas and Pacificorp, filed papers with the WUTC characterizing the franchise fee as a business tax and seeking permission recover the cost from reservation ratepayers only. Because the WUTC took no formal action on the utilities’ request, a tax went into effect automatically.

Some utility ratepayers believe the Yakama assessment is a franchise fee that should be spread statewide, rather than a tax that is only paid by reservation ratepayers.

"Commission practice encourages the collaborative discussion of disputes over utility rates, and I am hopeful that the parties in this matter can sit down and work on this together," Gregoire said. "I think the Commission should endorse that approach and give negotiations a chance to work."

If the collaborative process is not successful, Public Counsel will initiate formal proceedings before the WUTC in an attempt to address the issues, Gregoire said.

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