A group of elected officials and environmental organizations asked the Oregon Department of Justice to investigate NW Natural for promoting natural gas as a climate-friendly fuel, a claim the group says amounts to deceptive advertising.
In response to new state and local regulations that seek to curb the use of methane—the predominant compound in natural gas—NW Natural has “launched an escalating propaganda campaign aimed at delaying the transition to clean energy in homes by misleading consumers, elected officials, and Oregonians at large about the climate and health risks from methane gas appliances,” the group said today.
The group alleges that NW Natural leaders have: given misleading testimony to the Eugene City Council about natural gas; sent emails that cloud the impacts of gas on public health; spent thousands of dollars of company money on workbooks that mislead children about the dangers of burning methane; and published opinion pieces in local papers promoting methods for decarbonizing the gas industry that won’t work, including renewable natural gas (made from cow manure and garbage) and “green hydrogen.”
One frame of a NW Natural publication called “Your Natural Gas Activity Book” shows a factory worker handing a child a baseball bat, saying: “Natural gas can be used by industry to manufacture products like video games and baseball bats.” The page was included in testimony to the Public Utility Commission of Oregon in April.
“NW Natural is using the tobacco industry’s playbook to promote its dangerous product and avoid regulation,” Eugene city councilor Matt Keating said in a press release announcing the action. “It is time that the state holds this polluting fossil fuel corporation accountable for the demonstrably false and misleading statements that it is sending to its ratepayers, the general public and elected officials.”
NW Natural didn’t immediately return a request for comment sent to its media department.
“Our consumer protection team has long been involved in cases that involve mis-marketing or misrepresenting materials or products to children, and we take our obligation to protect our most vulnerable very seriously,” the Oregon DOJ said in a statement about the petition. “Additionally, we have teams of attorneys specializing in utility regulation and natural resources that will review the letter that we received today.”
Among officials calling on Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to take action are Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla, and state Rep. Khanh Pham (D-Portland). (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to Richard Meeker, co-owner of WW’s parent company.)
Groups calling for action include the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Oregon Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice, 350 Salem, the Sierra Club, and Portland Youth Climate Council, and Electrify Corvallis.
Leaders of those groups and others signed a petition addressed to Rosenblum.
“For over 15 years NW Natural has publicly claimed to be working to address climate change while doing everything it can to prevent regulation,” said Bethany Cotton, conservation director for Cascadia Wildlands. “Using ratepayer dollars to distribute propaganda to school kids is an unconscionable new low in their corporate misinformation efforts.”
After large increases last fall, NW Natural and Oregon’s other two gas utilities are looking to raise rates for the winter heating season, according to the Citizens Utility Board. Cascade Natural Gas proposed a 25% increase for residential customers, and Avista Utilities is proposing a 19% increase, CUB said. NW Natural wants a 16% increase. The Oregon PUC must approve rate increases.