The American Gas Association’s toxic behavior is driving away its members
Communities across the country wanting to transition to clean electricity consistently run into the same barrier: the “natural” gas industry’s powerful lobbying and political influence machine, led by the American Gas Association (AGA).
But recent news suggests the AGA’s controversial tactics, which millions of Americans are being forced to pay for through their monthly gas bills, may have gone too far. New England’s largest utility, Eversource, announced last month that it’s cutting ties with the AGA, citing a desire to redirect its spending to “more targeted associations and memberships with a focus on decarbonization.”
The news raises questions about other gas utilities across the country that publicly claim to support the transition to clean energy, while continuing to fund the AGA’s fossil fuel advocacy behind the scenes.
American Gas Association undermines local climate leaders
Starting with Berkely, California in 2019, a growing number of cities began to realize that they couldn’t meaningfully reduce their contribution to the climate crisis without addressing gas appliances in buildings. Gas furnaces, water heaters and stoves are responsible for as much as 70% of greenhouse gas emissions in some cities and are linked to asthma and other respiratory problems for residents.
So cities across the country began advocating that new buildings be constructed with cleaner, safer, more affordable all-electric appliances like heat pumps and induction stoves. But this movement was met with a full frontal assault from the fossil fuel industry, coordinated by the AGA.
Despite the AGA publicly claiming that they don’t lobby state or local governments, reporting from NPR found that the AGA was “actively involved in passing state-level bills” that stripped cities of the legal right to pass all-electric building codes. To date, 24 states have passed these kinds of bills and gas-friendly politicians in Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania have (thus far unsuccessfully) pushed similar measures.
Paying social media influencers to gush about gas
Methane gas industry paying off celebrities isn’t new — as far back as the 1930s, industry executives enlisted Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Daffy Duck to popularize the phrase “now we’re cooking with gas” to promote the use of gas stoves. But the industry, led by the American Gas Association, has doubled down in recent years in response to the threat of people switching to clean electricity.
According to research by the Energy and Policy Institute, the American Gas Association paid social media influencers to promote gas stoves, though most of the content was pulled off the internet after Mother Jones reported on the campaign.
AGA-funded front groups promote methane across the country
In recent years communities around the country have seen the launch of dozens of localized groups that bill themselves as grassroots groups of concerned citizens, but are actually organized and funded by millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry.
The American Gas Association has directly funded at least two of these groups, including “Partnership for Energy Progress,” which fought building electrification in the Pacific Northwest and “Your Energy America”, which promoted massive methane gas pipeline projects on the East Coast.
Sowing doubt about gas stove pollution
Scientists and medical professionals have been documenting the health threats associated with gas stoves for decades. More than 50 studies have found that gas stoves in the home are connected to asthma and cancer — enough evidence for the American Medical Association, American Lung Association and American Public Health Association to all speak out about the health threats of cooking with gas.
This isn’t news to the American Gas Association. They commissioned a report in the 1970s that acknowledged the harmful pollution from gas stoves and discussed different gas stove designs that could potentially address the issue. (They didn’t end up using the lower-pollution designs, because it would have cost them more money to manufacture them.)
Despite this well-documented history, the American Gas Association continues to publicly downplay the health threat of stoves and undermine the scientific consensus about their harms. But behind the scenes, their executives admit that the pollution concern is real:
The AGA has literally resorted to Big Tobacco’s playbook — hiring “experts” to confuse the public about the health threat of their product. The AGA has hired Dr. Julie Goodman, who had previously helped Phillip Morris portray their cigarettes as safe, to do the same for gas stoves.
Guess who pays for this? You!
Just about every gas utility in the United States is a member of the American Gas Association, which claims to be a non-political “utility trade association” despite spending millions every year on political lobbying and advertising in favor of methane gas.
The AGA charges utilities hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in membership fees, and utilities recover those costs through their customers’ monthly bills. That means that tens of millions of Americans are being unwittingly forced to pay for the American Gas Association’s fossil fuel advocacy every time they pay an energy bill!
Luckily there has been progress towards protecting the public from these unfair charges. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced in 2021 that it was reexamining rules around how utilities charge their customers for membership to trade organizations. The agency has yet to finalize any rule updates, but many states aren’t waiting. Colorado, Connecticut and Maine all passed laws this year prohibiting the practice.
It’s time for utilities to cut ties with the American Gas Association
If Eversource can walk away from the American Gas Association and their methane gas advocacy, there’s no reason other utilities can’t. As Emily Atkin at HEATED reports, Xcel Energy Con Edison, National Grid and Pacific Gas & Electric have all publicly emphasized their commitments to climate action, but continue to fund the American Gas Association’s climate obstruction. It’s time for these and other supposed climate leaders to put their money where their mouth is.