Elected officials in the Inland Empire have for many years said they support clean air and clean power for all.
Yet, recently, several local officials carried water for SoCalGas, a major opponent of California’s clean energy reforms. These officials are participating in a misinformation campaign by peddling SoCalGas’ rhetoric and falsely suggesting that so-called “renewable” gas can replace fossil fuel gas.
It’s business as usual from the gas industry, which continues to suppress efforts to provide clean heating technologies to Californians, especially those living on lower incomes. I’m here to say that we are inviting real, disastrous human health consequences if our region’s leaders continue to embrace fossil fuels.
Consider this: gas facilities in Southern California are located primarily in low-income, minority communities. On top of causing poor air quality outdoors, burning gas in homes contributes to indoor air pollution, often at levels that exceed outdoor air quality standards. The result is children and seniors suffering high rates of asthma in frontline communities that disproportionately bear the burden of California’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Rather than fight to change this dismal situation, some of our elected officials have embraced the gas industry’s messages coming through SoCalGas’s fake grassroots group: “Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions,” which has been exposed as nothing more than a SoCalGas-funded front group.
At SoCalGas’ urging, numerous local officials in the Inland Empire have passed a “balanced” energy resolution written and supplied by the gas industry -- with no public comment or debate. This is an entirely undemocratic process.
The “balance” they purportedly embrace is also a red herring. In their call for California to invest in biomethane -- what they call “renewable gas” -- this group dangerously overreaches. Biomethane, the gas byproduct of decomposing waste, doesn’t exist in sufficient quantities to support California’s total gas use. In addition, it's a prohibitively expensive fuel source, as a recent California Energy Commission report notes. In short, it’s a boutique, costly dead-end masquerading as a climate solution.
Our leaders need to reconsider balance. California is moving to a 100 percent carbon neutral economy by 2045, and doing so is overwhelmingly popular. How we get there in an equitable, cost-effective way is the challenge we collectively face, but we will never rise to the challenge if our elected officials are not even attempting to help get us there.
Gas emissions contribute to climate change. That is irrefutable. If anyone in elected office today claims to be taking climate change seriously, they cannot start with doubling down on gas and parroting the gas industry’s spin.
Where we can start is with electrification. Clean electricity drawn from diverse, carbon-free energy sources, can power our homes and businesses more efficiently and more cost-effectively than gas. Electric appliances also shield consumers from variable, volatile fossil fuel prices. Homes built without costly gas infrastructure reduce costs for developers, and we all know the cost of housing is a major issue in California. Even more, all of these savings accrue prior to factoring in the benefits we all share when we breathe cleaner air, both outdoors and indoors.
Rather than reciting the gas industry prepared talking points from the steps of the Riverside County building, our elected leadership should be working with their constituents to help shepherd in a new era of cleaner living for the Inland Empire.
The sooner they start reckoning with reality the better. Every dollar ratepayers spend on new gas infrastructure today is money wasted. In a carbon-neutral economy, those are all sunk costs. We don’t want to be paying for yesterday’s fossil fuel infrastructure when we could be investing in today’s clean energy solutions.
SoCalGas is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, a Fortune 500 energy company whose primary responsibility is to deliver profits to its Wall Street shareholders. Our primary responsibility is to the low-income communities of color we serve. When it’s a question of whether to support investors or work to improve health and housing affordability, we know where we stand.
We need the Inland Empire’s elected leaders to show us where they stand.
A welcome first step would be to stop spouting the gas company’s rhetoric and start supporting voluntary pilot programs that help all communities -- all incomes, all zip codes, all backgrounds -- move to clean energy in their homes. It’s really the least they can do and what our communities deserve.
(Andrea Vidaurre is a policy analyst at the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ). CCAEJ works on social justice change through the lens of environmental and health justice in the Inland Empire.)