Consumers are getting caught in the crossfire of environmental activists’ war against natural gas and the new battlefield is in the kitchen.
Environmentalists began collaborating with state government officials from across the United States at a closed-door gathering in New York this summer to lay out the plans for policies that would prevent consumers from using natural gas to cook their food or heat their homes.
The conference included representatives from the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Energy Foundation, and the World Research Institute among others, according to open records recently obtained by free market group Energy Policy Advocates and reviewed by the Washington Times.
It was hosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) at their Pocantico Center in Tarrytown, N.Y. where they paid for all logistical costs and emails show they also offered to cover the airfare of state government officials who needed financial assistance.
“If your state cannot cover travel, we can help you cover your travel costs as well,” an email read.
On July 18, the group met for a panel discussion called “Natural Gas Lock In” which set its sights on natural gas home appliances like stoves, washers, and dryers.
“We are well past the point of using natural gas as a transition fuel, and new policies and programs should explicitly avoid further ‘lock-in’ investments like natural gas fueled municipal buses or energy efficiency funding for natural gas equipment,” read one email.
It’s a policy proposal that would likely have a significant adverse impact on Colorado, New Mexico, and other energy-producing states in the West.
Additional emails showed the group included state government officials from New Mexico and 11 other “trifecta” states – in which the Democratic Party controls both the governorship and both legislative chambers – who discussed going beyond bans on natural gas appliances and pursue a full elimination of fossil fuels.
New Mexico is heavily dependent on the oil and gas industry for its economy and to fund public services. Because of the thriving Permian Basin, the state saw a $900 million surplus last year and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has spoken repeatedly about being able to offer free tuition to state universities because of this revenue.
“We are asking lead energy policy advisors to attend from a dozen states with supportive, and in many cases, new governors and legislatures interested in accelerating the transition to a clean, low-carbon economy,” read an invite in one of the emails. You are invited because you are the, or one of the, lead policy advisors to your governor on energy and climate policy,” and agenda stated.
The meeting was a sign that climate activists, including the Basalt, Colo.-based Rocky Mountain Institute and Colorado State University’s Center for the new Energy Economy—which is headed by former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter—are working to spread natural gas bans around the country and that activists are continuing to work on the strategy that was originally envisioned at a gathering in La Jolla, Calif. in 2012 to use legal and regulatory actions to curtail the use of fossil fuels.
While activists are fighting to make natural gas appliances illegal, consumers continue to seek them out. Natural gas stoves, furnaces, and other appliances remain consumer favorites. According to the American Gas Association, in 2017, natural gas had 49 percent market share for both cooktop ranges and water heaters.
In part, this is because chefs and cooks at all skill levels prefer natural gas burners to electric stoves. Gas allows for quicker heat that can be more precisely controlled. In fact, one study of homebuyers in the Pacific Northwest found that 87 percent ranked natural gas service as important to them, largely because of price and cooking. They were also willing to pay a premium for natural gas over an all-electric home.
That presents a challenge for climate activists.
Although they see home appliances as the next step in their anti-fossil fuel campaign, research demonstrates that the costs would be high and emissions reductions minimal. Energy Information Administration (EIA) statistics show that residential natural gas use contributed less than 4 percent of overall greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Meanwhile, the cost to replace these appliances with electric equivalents, with the resulting increase in demand for electricity, would raise annual energy costs between $1100 and $1400.
This hasn’t stopped local governments from across the country attempting to enact limits on new natural gas hookups. The Seattle City Council considered a ban on natural gas hookups in new buildings this fall. Meanwhile, in New York state, utility Conn Edison is struggling to find a way to connect new homes in New York City suburbs to a limited supply of natural gas. New England has resisted constructing new pipelines for years and the region is now strapped for supply. Boulder considered implementing a city natural gas tax earlier this year.
“Berkeley is the opening salvo,” Bruce Nilles, managing director of think tank Rocky Mountain Institute’s building electrification program, told Reuters. The Bay Area city became the first city in the country in July to pass an ordinance prohibiting gas hookups in new buildings.
Climate activists are hoping that these types of bans will push consumers toward electric appliances, and they are receiving packing from deep-pocketed environmentalist donors, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF).
RBF funds multi-million-dollar anti-fossil fuel initiatives including campaigns against the Keystone XL pipeline, fossil fuel divestment and climate litigation. RBF grantees including Colorado State University, Georgetown University, the latter’s Climate Center in particular receives substantial funding from numerous foundations aimed at eliminating fossil fuels.
As Western Wire has previously reported, RBF has also provided financial assistance to the non-profit serving as co-counsel in the Boulder climate lawsuit.