Markey, Whitehouse launch campaign against gas group

By Nico Portuondo | 04/10/2024 06:25 AM EDT

The Democrats, along with environmentalists, accused the American Gas Association on Tuesday of using ratepayer money to pay for lobbying.

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) at the Capitol. The environmentally minded lawmakers on Tuesday spoke against the American Gas Association's advocacy activities. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Two Senate climate hawks are putting the country’s biggest natural gas trade group in the crosshairs of another campaign to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its lobbying against strong action against global warming.

Senate Budget Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Tuesday joined leaders from the Gas Leaks Project on Capitol Hill to urge the American Gas Association against using ratepayer money for what the lawmakers call disinformation campaigns.

“The American Gas Association has known about the health harms of gas for decades but worked for years to mislead the public,” said Markey. “To make matters worse, the American Gas Association gets funding for its misinformation campaigns from your gas bills.”


The lawmakers and environmental group allies said gas utilities are taking advantage of consumers by using money from their customers’ bills to pay AGA membership fees.

“These associations can say the terrible things and push the fraudulent lies that the companies themselves with customers and shareholders don’t want to be immediately associated with,” said Whitehouse. “Again, more deception as to who’s really behind this.”

The AGA, which represents more than 200 natural gas companies, has opposed energy efficiency codes and Department of Energy appliance regulations. The group has said such measures would limit consumer access to natural gas products.

The trade organization announced filing a legal brief late Tuesday against DOE rules affecting natural gas furnaces and water heaters.

“We have attempted to work with the Department of Energy to address both the flawed modeling and the rules’ profound harm to consumers, homeowners and businesses,” said CEO Karen Harbert. “Now we are asking the court to vacate the rules.”

DOE says the gas furnace rule alone — which would require non-weatherized gas furnaces and those used in mobile homes to achieve an annual fuel utilization efficiency of 95 percent — will save consumers almost $25 billion over 30 years.

Other than lobbying on efficiency rules, Whitehouse said the industry has been working for decades to spread misinformation regarding the health effects of gas stoves and overplaying the climate benefits of the fuel.

In February, Markey led a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan urging the agency to investigate and crack down on misleading environmental claims.

The campaign likely won’t go further than a public shaming for now; the lawmakers said they did not yet have plans to craft legislation.

Still, debate about natural gas has escalated on Capitol Hill, with House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) considering pushing the administration to scrap its liquefied natural gas export review pause in exchange for Ukraine funding.

Whitehouse has already led probes into oil industry lobbying and recently went after the Chamber of Commerce over its climate commitments.

For its part, the AGA said it would continue to advocate for its member companies and instead accused environmentalists of spreading misinformation.

“Despite advocacy groups willfully spreading misinformation and promoting ill-informed energy policy that would drive up prices and sacrifice environmental progress, this industry will continue to implement inclusive solutions to deliver life-essential energy and reduce emissions for our customers and communities,” Harbert said.