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By Matt Vespa, Special to CALmatters

When your gas bill arrives, you probably think you’re paying to warm your home and light your stove.

Though that’s largely true, families in some parts of California are footing the bill for a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to stop California’s clean energy progress.

If you do the math, natural gas burned to heat buildings and water is responsible for 10 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. As our energy grid becomes cleaner with renewable energy, transitioning from gas to electric appliances is important to meeting our climate goals.

Yet this urgently needed clean energy revolution poses an existential threat to SoCalGas. Unlike other utilities, Southern California Gas Co.’s business model depends on selling natural gas. So while many California utilities have begun to plan for the state’s clean energy future, SoCalGas has actively undermined it.

From publishing studies and communications rigged to make electric home appliances appear more costly to railing against legislation that would reduce emissions from buildings, SoCalGas is spending millions of dollars on lobbying efforts to hold back the tide.

SoCalGas is not in the vehicles market, but it is lobbying especially hard stop electric vehicles in California.

In 2017 the company weighed in on state proceedings to interfere with Southern California Edison’s plans to provide charging stations and infrastructure for electric vehicles. It has told policymakers that electric buses won’t be ready for the market for 20 years.

California already has over 100 electric buses, and Los Angeles and San Francisco have committed to having 100 percent electric bus fleets by 2030 and 2035. They can choose from 22 available models, so far.

SoCalGas has argued that the state should invest in “renewable natural gas” vehicles that will require maintaining our leaking gas pipeline infrastructure.

In truth, this gas has a limited potential supply that can’t possibly serve California’s needs and is more polluting than electric alternatives. The cost of all of that lobbying is borne in real dollars and cents by SoCalGas customers every time they pay their bills.

If SoCalGas is able to stop the energy revolution, Californians will pay a heavy price with our health and our climate. Perhaps most dearly, we’ll pay the price of a changing climate, with lost coastline and more extreme wildfires and drought.

Three years ago, the largest gas leak in U.S. history happened right in a residential suburb in California. Hundreds of people suffered nosebleeds, nausea and dizziness as SoCalGas’s Aliso Canyon well spewed methane into the San Fernando Valley.

Fossil fuel companies will continue to lobby for their interests. But SoCalGas should not be able to pass on these costs to families in their energy bills. As a regulated utility, its lobbying must be paid for by shareholder profits.

California has a state agency that can put a stop to SoCalGas’s practices. The California Public Utilities Commission must approve each utility’s spending plans.

Commissioners can weigh in and stop utilities from billing Californians for lobbying that hurts our climate and air quality while doing nothing to actually serve families’ energy needs. It’s a necessary check on the power of California’s utilities.

This is why Earthjustice’s Right to Zero Campaign and other environmental groups are urging the California Public Utilities Commission to do just that. We submitted one of the SoCalGas mailers that mislead customers on the relative costs of gas and electric heaters. In response, SoCalGas asserted that it was unreasonable to assume its “customers would take the data in this chart at face value.”

In fact, the commissioners should stop taking Southern California Gas Co. at face value and protect customers from unknowingly bankrolling the utility’s efforts to obstruct climate progress.


Matt Vespa is a clean energy attorney for Earthjustice’s Right to Zero Campaign,  [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.