Incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat who has held his two-year position since 2000, is competing against B.J. Guillot, a Republican software developer, in the Nov. 4 election for Washington’s 2nd Congressional District.
Though they have similar points of view on many energy-related issues, the two candidates differ on the best steps for oil train safety and switching to renewable energy.
The district encompasses most of Bellingham, Sudden Valley and southwestern Whatcom County, as well as Island County and parts of Skagit and Snohomish counties.
Guillot has said he is not opposed to reaching across the aisle to work on issues like renewable energy. He drives a Nissan Leaf and has solar panels on his house.
“I want to put it out there that I’m not one of these obstructionist Republicans,” Guillot told a League of Women Voters of Bellingham and Whatcom County audience Oct. 8. “I think compromise is important. Compromise is not a dirty word.”
Larsen told the League audience Congress needs to be better at creating jobs, ending partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., and working on local problems.
When it comes to oil train safety concerns, Larsen said no one has done more in the House of Representatives to address the issue, fighting for tougher tank car design standards, forcing railroads to do more rail line inspections and getting funding to train emergency responders.
“But there’s more to it than that. Even without oil and coal trains, we’re going to have more train traffic,” Larsen said. “So what are we going to do to invest in the infrastructure to deal with freight mobility as well as congestion relief? ... No one is better positioned in Congress to deal with that.”
Guillot said he is opposed to oil and coal trains rolling through local communities because of safety concerns and impacts on local agriculture.
“Instead of shipping coal and oil on these trains, why don’t we ship more Washington-grown products here?” Guillot told the Oct. 8 forum crowd. “It’s getting too expensive for farmers to ship because they’re competing with coal and oil traffic.”
Larsen said he understands people who argue oil trains should be banned altogether, but banning one substance would be a slippery slope.
“The problem is if you say you can’t have one product shipped, it opens the doors to others,” Larsen said. “Then railroads can choose what they can ship or not. It’s an uneasy contract to force railroads to carry anything.”
Guillot said it would be safer to ship oil by pipeline and it would be prudent not to export natural resources like coal.
“We should keep our valuable resources here,” Guillot said. “We might need it one day. There could be a global catastrophe and you may need that coal for something important. But I don’t know that we need it right now.”
The Republican candidate also said he would support a comprehensive national energy plan using both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.
“You can’t get rid of fossil fuels overnight. You can’t just go cold turkey on it,” Guillot said. “We have things like aircraft that you’re not going to be able to power off heavy batteries or wind power.”
Larsen said he voted in 2009 for a cap and trade system that would have regulated CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
“I almost lost an election for it,” Larsen said. “I’ve voted to eliminate oil and gas subsidies. I’ve voted to create and increase subsidies that go into renewable fuel investment in this country.”
But Guillot does not think subsidies are necessary to transition to a renewable economy. He believes in a free market system where all types of energy can compete on an even basis to see which technology works best.
To help preserve the agricultural farm sector of Whatcom County, Guillot said it would be important to clarify water rights.
“The EPA could make water on farms not their property any more,” Guillot said. “Farmers are having a hard time trying to drill wells, do irrigation,”
Larsen said he helped write a few farm bills and has served on the Committee on Agriculture. Agriculture in Whatcom County is different than on the east side of the state because of the prevalence of specialty crops, Larsen said.
“These folks aren’t asking for income support or handouts,” Larsen said. “What they want is a level playing field for competition around the world.”
The gap in votes between Guillot and Larsen could narrow despite a large gap in campaign finances if voters who supported an independent candidate in the primary shift their loyalty to Guillot.
Districtwide, Larsen gathered about 56 percent of the vote in the Aug. 5 primary. Guillot had 33 percent but could pick up some of the 12 percent that voted for independent Mike Lapointe.
Lapointe has since praised Guillot publicly via Facebook for reaching out to constituents and supporting the Peoples Climate March in Seattle in late September. Guillot also asked Lapointe to represent him at a Lopez Island League of Women Voters forum he couldn’t attend in early October (though only candidates on the ballot may participate in the debate).
But in Whatcom County, Larsen seemed unlikely to get knocked out of the lead: He took 64 percent of the primary election tally to Guillot’s 24 percent.
As of Sept. 30, Larsen had raised just shy of $1 million, to Guillot’s $5,717.
Guillot had given his own campaign $2,928, with $2,789 coming from individual contributions.
Larsen had $258,926 in individual contributions and $740,670 from committees. He did not contribute to his campaign.