SoCalGas' troubling lobbying
According to the Guardian's July 14 story "US gas utility funds 'front' consumer group to fight natural gas bans," KQED's July 31st story, "SoCalGas Admits Funding 'Front' Group in Fight for Its Future," and the LA Times' August 8th column, SoCalGas broke lobbying rules by funding an astroturf group C4BE, and then having C4BE lobby the state against proposals to allow cities and utilities to encourage switching from natural gas to electricity. SoCalGas is also lobbying cities and neighborhood councils against building decarbonization; see this motion circulated at a Boyle Heights neighborhood council meeting, and for much more detail, this Sierra Club legal filing detailing SoCalGas's shady lobbying activities. Strikingly, SoCalGas claims to not control C4BE, despite having created the group, paying its expenses, and paying nine of its board members, including one who received $25,000. Not only is it galling that SoCalGas is using ratepayer money to lobby against clean air—it violates a previous order prohibiting them from doing so. It's not surprising that the state's Public Advocates Office has recommended an investigation.
SoCalGas's exact arguments against building decarbonization seem to vary with time. Earlier this year, they were arguing for biogas (see below); now they imply in a letter to the LA Times that it is pointless to reduce emissions in California, because California only causes 1% of climate change. That's like arguing that it is pointless to go to a barn-raising, since each person can only raise a little bit of the barn. They also claim that utility bills in zero-emissions homes will be higher...but they should know that heat pumps are far more efficient than old-fashioned gas appliances, and the state, Berkeley, and Los Angeles have all done cost-effectiveness analyses to verify that homeowners will save money when new homes are built with them.
Our advice to neighborhood councils? Full steam ahead on addressing environmental problems that affect your neighborhood! Help educate your communities on this issue as the city prepares to decarbonize new buildings by 2021. Share this fact sheet on natural gas and biogas. For instance, get the Advocacy committee's clean building motion on the agenda, and argue for clean air and climate action. Don't be distracted by fossil fuel industry lobbying.
—Dan Kegel, August '19, Advocacy Committee Chair
A few words about natural gas and biogas
What is natural gas, anyway? And what's up with biogas? Read our fact sheet to find out.
As schoolchildren now remind us, fighting climate change is vital to our future, and we can't stop climate change if we keep getting energy from burning things. That means taking meaningful steps every year to significantly reduce the use of coal, oil, and gas, and increase the use of renewable energy, with a goal of getting to 100% renewable energy across the state.
That vision spells the end of large fossil fuel companies like SoCalGas, which is deploying lobbyists and setting up astroturf organizations to portray itself as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Their strategy includes visits to local neighborhood groups, where they show pro-gas videos and ask people to sign up for their pro-gas pressure group. The video and their website try to convince people that SoCalGas is transitioning to using green, renewable biogas from cows...but fail to mention that all the manure from every factory farm in the state together only produces enough gas for a tiny fraction of our energy needs, and that cleaning up the gas and transporting it to where it can be used productively is difficult and currently only possible with huge subsidies.
In short, SoCalGas is engaged in greenwashing, and they're probably coming to a neighborhood council meeting near you sometime soon. If they ask to be put on your agenda, please reach out to the Advocacy Committee so we can help you prepare.
—Dan Kegel, June '19, Advocacy Committee Chair
The SoCalGas webpage https://www.socalgas.com/smart-energy/renewable-gas/what-is-renewable-natural-gas gives the impression of the sort of farm we like to think of; indeed, the images depict a farm with animals grazing on the land.
The reality is very different. The actual plan is to collect the gases emitted from the manure lagoons of concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs). In these operations, animals are confined in such a way that their urine and feces fall into troughs that lead to what are called "manure lagoons." These lagoons have been a major problem for CAFOs—they release gases that pollute the air and liquids that pollute the local water.
The idea, then is to enclose the lagoons and extract the methane, which can be used as a fuel to be marketed, or to run generators to create electricity. This article gives a good basic criticism of this idea and CAFOs generally (and a better use for animal wastes). As is said in the article, "Government programs should support farming practices that are inherently sustainable rather than inherently demanding of remediation."
—Don Dwiggins, Steering Board Member
Food & Water Watch also has several resources on the subject. You can read a handout here: https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/sites/default/files/fs_1903_socalgas-web.pdf and watch a webinar here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ISG9KTNGYk
And here is an article from The Sacramento Bee:
This is from the Union of Concerned Scientists:
This is an analysis of the potential of, and challenges with, renewable natural gas (a biogas):
JUST ADDED! Read this important article from The Guardian about SoCalGas's front group:
AND HERE IS MORE about how SoCalGas is slowing down efforts to address the climate crisis: