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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Deepa Sivarajan and Rosie Zhou: Lying about “natural” gas doesn’t make it good for the climate or our health

By Deepa Sivaraian and Rosie Zhou

Washington state is leading the nation in climate action. We’ve taken major steps to ensure our electrical grid is 100% clean; set aggressive mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% below 1990 levels by the year 2050; reduce pollution from gasoline and diesel; and invest billions in communities via an economy-wide emissions cap.

We’re making progress, but we have yet to address our fastest growing source of emissions – burning fossil gas to heat our homes and buildings. Burning gas is responsible for about 80% of direct carbon emissions from the residential and commercial sectors (EPA). It’s great to see Spokane leading on phasing out gas through the commitments in its draft Climate Action Plan.

Reducing our reliance on burning gas in our buildings is more than just about climate, it’s also about our health and cleaning up the air we breathe. Although most recognize that burning gas worsens climate change, fewer people know that it’s also bad for our health. Burning gas emits a host of pollutants that compromise outdoor and indoor air quality – nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde just to name a few. The burning of gas on stoves causes asthma and asthma-related hospitalizations. Washington has one of the highest rates of asthma in the country and these numbers are steadily increasing. Low-income communities and communities of color have even higher rates of asthma because of their increased exposure to air pollution as a result of historical redlining. Babies and children, whose lungs are still developing, are most vulnerable to the health impacts of burning gas. Moreover, power outages in Texas were largely caused by the failures of gas – not renewable energy – and many people were poisoned trying to heat their homes with gas stoves.

Electrifying our buildings protects our health, but it’s also an economic and affordability win. Research shows that all-electric new homes and buildings will save customers an average of $4,300 over a 15-year building life cycle. The costs for electric heat pumps continues to decline and, unlike what gas companies recently claimed, new research shows that heat pumps cut pollution in every part of the country, especially in Washington where clean power is the law. If we continue to expand our reliance on gas in our buildings, that transition will be much costlier to all of us, but especially lower-income communities.

Washington’s Deep Decarbonization Pathways study showed that the lowest-cost pathway for achieving the state’s climate goals by 2050 relies on electrifying our buildings. The gas industry, Avista, and other gas utilities are well aware of this threat to their revenue projections. There is a well-documented effort of the gas industry fighting building electrification policies and creating huge PR campaigns to greenwash gas as “safe,” “natural” and “climate friendly.” Here in the Northwest, we’ve seen the formation of the Partnership for Energy Progress, a gas-front PR group that has been amassing millions to fight efforts to reduce gas use statewide. Guess who is part of this group? Avista Utilities, which provides both gas and electric service in Spokane.

That’s why the recent op-ed in this paper by Jason Thackston, Avista Senior VP, came as no surprise. Not only is Avista spreading misinformation, but it has also proven time and again to be on the wrong side of our state’s efforts to address climate change. Avista didn’t support 100% clean electricity and the Clean Fuel Standard, tried to weaken the Climate Commitment Act, and even failed to support nonbinding targets to reduce emissions. So of course they’re trying to claim that “(un)natural” gas – a dangerous, fracked fossil fuel – is clean. Avista advertises its commitment to zero-carbon electricity by 2045, but Washington law already requires that of all electric utilities. You don’t get a gold star for not breaking the law, and certainly not while opposing measures to eliminate fossil fuels from homes and buildings.

Spokane is in good company pushing to reduce fossil gas use in its buildings. Cities and states across the United States are recognizing the climate, health and safety risks of gas. More than 50 cities in California have committed to going gas-free, with Washington, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey also exploring phasing out gas.

With Washington’s clean and low-cost electricity and our record of leading on climate, we can – and should – shift to clean, safe, all-electric buildings that reduce emissions, improve our air quality and health, and advance affordability and job creation.

Deepa Sivarajan is the Washington policy manager at Climate Solutions. Rosie Zhou is a hub coordinator of Sunrise Spokane, a local youth-led organization fighting for climate justice. She will be attending Columbia University in the fall.

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