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US senators have denounced certified natural gas as a deceptive tactic to appear environmentally friendly.
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US senators have denounced certified natural gas as a deceptive tactic to appear environmentally friendly.

A group of progressive senators sent a letter to federal regulators on Monday, declaring that certified natural gas, or methane gas claimed to be produced with low emissions, is a deceptive “greenwashing scheme”.

A group of lawmakers, led by Ed Markey of Massachusetts, wrote a letter to Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission. The letter expresses concern about companies making false sustainability claims, which is against federal laws that protect consumers from deception. The FTC is set to release updated Green Guides that will clarify when marketing claims around sustainability are in violation of these laws. The lawmakers are urging stricter enforcement against gas certification programs that make false claims.

“The truth is, gas certification schemes enable the oil and gas sector to rationalize the ongoing growth of methane gas consumption and hinder progress towards a fair transition to renewable energy,” states the letter, co-signed by Senators Jeff Merkley, Sheldon Whitehouse, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Bernie Sanders, and Cory Booker.

The gas industry has promoted itself as environmentally conscious, citing that when combusted, it produces less carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, compared to other fossil fuels. However, gas, also known as “natural gas” by those in the fossil fuel industry, is primarily composed of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short term. Recent studies suggest that gas may have a greater impact on the climate than coal.

As worries over gas consumption and the environmental emergency grow, a recent trend has emerged in the form of third-party gas “certifiers”. These businesses create criteria to declare that specific producers are decreasing emissions from their fracking operations, pipelines, and storage sites, thus producing sustainable gas.

According to a report by the non-profit watchdog organization Revolving Door Project, several utilities in New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Michigan and Virginia have bought certified natural gas and intend to charge customers extra for it. This is because companies have the ability to designate certain gas as “certified,” “responsibly produced,” or “differentiated,” allowing producers to sell it for a higher price.

According to Hannah Story Brown, a senior researcher at the Revolving Door Project, these particular consumers are still at risk of being exposed to harmful air pollution due to the use of gas in their households. This combustion of gas also continues to worsen the issue of climate change.

The criteria of gas certifiers has not been found to be reliable under careful examination. In the year 2022, two environmental organizations, Earthworks and Oil Change International, conducted a seven-month audit of sensor technologies utilized by Project Canary, a leading company in gas certification. According to a report published last year, the groups determined that the company consistently failed to detect methane leaks during various processes such as drilling, fracking, flaring, and venting. (Project Canary has responded by stating that the report contains “inaccurate and misleading statements”.)

The legislators state that it is not surprising that there is a lack of reliability in the system. They point out that gas companies rely on certification from monitoring companies, while monitoring companies rely on business from the industry. This creates a situation where there is no motivation to ensure the accuracy of emissions measurements.

The senators are requesting an FTC inquiry into the procedures for certifying gas. They are also urging the agency to provide guidance for third-party certification systems for natural gas in the updated Green Guides, which are scheduled to be published this year.

The letter states that following these measures will prevent gas producers and certification companies from deceiving and exploiting consumers, causing harm to the environment, and impeding efforts towards addressing climate change.

Over the past few months, environmental activists have been warning about the potential dangers of certified natural gas programs. In the summer, the Department of Energy decided to pause its efforts to establish a definition for “certified” gas, following objections from over 150 advocacy organizations such as Earthworks, Oil Change International, Revolving Door Project, and Gas Leaks Project. These groups expressed concerns that this move could be seen as a way for the government to endorse greenwashing in the gas industry.

Caleb Heeringa, program director at the Gas Leaks Project, stated that the letter from climate leaders in the Senate is a significant move in safeguarding the public against the industry’s deceptive promotion of ‘natural’ gas.

Source: theguardian.com