Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center and OSPIRG Foundation’s national affiliates file groundbreaking greenwashing lawsuit against methane gas utility company
PORTLAND – U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center – which are national affiliates of OSPIRG Foundation and Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center – and ClientEarth filed a lawsuit against Washington Gas in District of Columbia Superior Court on Thursday over misleading customers on the environmental impacts of natural gas, which is mostly made up of methane.
The groups have found similar greenwashing of the environmental impacts of methane gas in customer-facing communications by NW Natural, including by producing free activity booklets for kids that included games, puzzles, and cartoons that portray methane gas as clean and beneficial.
“This lawsuit sends a signal to NW Natural and other gas utilities that they need to stop greenwashing methane gas,” said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, state director of Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center. "Oregon is already experiencing broiling temperatures this summer. Extreme heat waves will get worse if we continue spewing greenhouse gasses, like methane, into the air.”
“Consumers have a right to the facts about the environmental and health impacts of the products and services they use – including where they get their energy," said Charlie Fisher, state director of OSPIRG Foundation. "It’s time to stop letting gas companies greenwash polluting fossil fuels like methane gas.”
Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is a relatively short-lived but super-potent greenhouse gas with 80 times the climate-warming harm of carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Methane commonly escapes when extracting and transporting natural gas – making it a significant contributor to climate change before it is even burned. Then, when it is burned, the combustion of natural gas releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Methane is responsible for nearly half of global warming to date.
With extreme heat and drought affecting much of the country, the impacts of climate change are already visible this summer. According to data from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Berkeley Earth, 2021 was the seventh in a row in which global temperatures were more than 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial average. And yet, Washington Gas consistently refers to methane gas in customer facing materials as “clean” and sustainable, and even includes on its bills a colorful picture of flowers, with text describing natural gas as a “smart choice for the environment” compared to electrification.
As a first-of-its-kind suit in the United States, the environmental, consumer groups claim Washington Gas, which delivers methane gas to more than one million residential, commercial and industrial customers, has violated Washington, D.C.’s consumer protection laws.
The groups are asking the court to require Washington Gas to stop using misleading language and images that exaggerate the environmental benefits of methane gas in their customer-facing materials. The company’s claims are out of step with the D.C.’s climate policies. In July, the D.C. council passed legislation that requires all new buildings and substantial renovations to be net-zero starting in 2026. To achieve the goal, the bill bans most use of methane gas in new buildings. At the same time, the council passed legislation committing to make the entire city carbon neutral by 2045.
“The sooner America gets off methane gas, the better,” said Meiffren-Swango. “Today’s lawsuit signals that utility marketing campaigns that try to sell ‘clean’ fossil fuels are officially off limits.”