Elected Officials and Climate Justice Groups Call on Oregon Department of Justice to Investigate NW Natural

A gas stove burning fuel.

Petition says the utility intentionally misleads the public on their environmental impact, while charging higher prices and scrapping electrification efforts.

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Environmental groups and elected officials submitted a petition submitted to state attorney general Ellen Rosenblum Wednesday morning calling on her to investigation NW Natural, state’s largest methane gas utility, for false advertising,

The letter accuses NW Natural of spreading false information about the environmental impact of methane, attempting to portray the product as a climate-friendly energy solution. Deceptive trade practices and false advertising are illegal in Oregon. 

Petitioners say the utility provided misleading testimony to the Eugene City Council and wrote “obfuscating emails” about the impact of natural gas on public health. They are also asking the state to investigate picture and coloring books it has distributed to children to “encourage them to think positively about methane gas” by associating it with cookies, pizza and cartoon characters.

NW Natural’s activity book promoting Natural Gas. Source: NW Natural

Advocates also point to advertisements claiming that biogas captured from the Arkansas-based meat processor Tyson Foods was delivered to Oregon customers. They say it was actually sold to out-of-state utilities, and that the company does not deliver any electricity in state.

The petitioners include five Oregon elected officials and 32 organizations, including the Sierra Club, the Oregon Environmental Council, the NAACP of Eugene-Springfield, Oregon Conservancy Foundation, and Onward Eugene,

Petitioners say the campaign is a response to efforts by the City of Eugene to ban natural gas in new buildings, as well as a requested 12% rate hike.

“NW Natural is using the tobacco industry’s playbook to promote its dangerous product and avoid regulation,” said Eugene city councilor Matt Keating in the coalition’s press release. “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.”

Nora Apter, climate program director for the Oregon Environmental Council, tells Oregon Business NW Natural’s rate hikes are being sold to consumers as necessary to pay more for green energy, but is in fact being used to fund its misinformation campaign.

“What they are trying to do is use that price increase to fund all of the lobbying against climate protection in Oregon in order to proliferate their business model by trying to sell people on fossil gas,” says Apter. “But it’s propaganda. The truth is methane gas is a super pollutant that’s warming our planet even faster than carbon dioxide. Northwest Natural is very much complicit in that.”

Nora Apter, climate program director for the Oregon Environmental Council. Photo: Jason Kaplan

Apter says misleading the public about its environmental impact is nothing new for the gas company, which she says was the reason behind the company dropping the word “gas” from its name in 1997. She says the company is aware of the climate and health risks associated with methane, and falsely portrays the gas as safe and climate-freindly anyway. 

“Northwest Natural knows the many health and climate risks of methane, yet they actively promote it as a safe, clean product to make customers feel comfortable piping it into their homes. At the same time, NW Natural’s false advertising around so-called “renewable natural gas” serves to polish its image for credit and regulatory agencies, and the wider public,” says Apter, who adds that she hopes the investigation will “shine a light on, and ultimatley put an end to ratepayer-funded propaganda” by NW Natrual. 

“In the midst of this current climate emergency, Oregon needs to be quickly advancing an equitable transition off of fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy and healthy homes,” State Representative Khanh Pham (D-Portland), said in the press release. “Unfortunately, NW Natural is spreading false solutions and rate increases which will enrich its shareholders at the expense of our most vulnerable. Oregon should not allow the fossil fuel industry to continue to mislead regulators, ratepayers, and the general public any longer.”

When contacted, the attorney general’s office responded with this emai:

“The Attorney General received a letter from the Sierra Club and other advocacy groups and individuals this morning that makes several different claims about NW Natural’s marketing practices and activities.  It is lengthy and merits review by a few different sections at DOJ.  We appreciate that these important environmental and consumer issues have been raised by a broad group of Oregonians, including some elected leaders. 

Our consumer protection team has long been involved in cases that involve mismarketing or misrepresenting materials or products to children, and we take our obligation to protect our most vulnerable very seriously.  Additionally, we have teams of attorneys specializing in utility regulation and natural resources that will review the letter that we received today.”

NW Natural did not respond within Oregon Business’s deadline. 

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