"It's important our lawmakers are advocating for the government to step in, stop this scam, and regulate gas companies to clean up their mess," said one campaigner.
Seven U.S. senators on Monday demanded a federal regulatory crackdown on what they described as a "dangerous greenwashing scheme" in the fossil fuel industry: producers hiring so-called gas certification companies to measure operations' methane pollution so they can claim their gas is "preferable from a climate perspective."
"Gas producers sometimes publicly describe their product as 'certified,' 'responsible,' or 'differentiated' and market it as a climate-friendly fossil fuel. But too often these green claims are false or misleading due to opaque methodology, unreliable technology, and unacknowledged downstream climate effects of gas combustion," the senators explained. "Still, many utilities are using so-called 'certified' gas to falsely burnish their climate bona fides, and some charge premiums for gas bearing these often meaningless designations."
"We therefore urge the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate and crack down on unfair and deceptive environmental claims made by fossil fuel producers and gas certification programs, including by updating FTC Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, informally known as the 'Green Guides,' to expressly provide guidance on the claims those programs can legitimately make," the lawmakers, led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), wrote to the agency's chair, Lina Khan.
"Our lawmakers are wise to call for a stop to this scam, and get ahead of what's likely to be a mad scramble to greenwash gas."
Markey, a well-established climate champion, was joined by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). As they noted, "natural" gas is mostly made of methane, which has over 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere and has caused about 30% of the rise in global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution.
"The reality is that gas certification schemes allow the oil and gas industry to justify the continued expansion of methane gas use and undermine efforts towards a just transition to renewables," the senators said. They argued that "there is no incentive to ensure the accuracy of emissions measurements" because the gas producers and certifiers rely on each other for profit.
"Moreover, certified gas schemes directly harm consumers, who end up paying a higher price for gas that might not be as clean as its producers claim," they added, pointing to estimates that "prices for certified gas could be set at 5% higher than market price."
The senators stressed that the "current Green Guides—last updated in 2012—do not specifically address claims about certified gas. In fact, they don't include any guidance for oil and gas marketing whatsoever, in contrast to explicit guidance on misleading claims from gas suppliers and utilities in other countries, such as the United Kingdom."
In addition to pushing for updates to the guidelines and a probe of the industry, the senators asked the FTC leader to respond to a series of related questions by the end of March.
The letter references various research, including an April report from Earthworks and Oil Change International (OCI), which welcomed the senators' attention to the issue amid a worsening climate emergency as a result of fossil fuels.
"We investigated one of the primary companies gas producers pay to 'certify' their fossil fuel as 'clean' or 'responsible'—and found nothing to support their claims," said OCI research director Lorne Stockman. "We put independent pollution monitors at sites the company claimed to track and found over 20 pollution events. The company's monitors missed all of them."
"Private gas 'certification' is flawed because companies have every incentive to claim they're clean, and no repercussions when they instead pollute, poison our air, harm our health, and cause the climate crisis," Stockman added. "It's important our lawmakers are advocating for the government to step in, stop this scam, and regulate gas companies to clean up their mess."
OCI U.S. program manager Allie Rosenbluth highlighted that the letter comes on the heels of the Biden administration's January decision to halt approvals for all liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to non-Fair Trade Agreement countries.
"In response, companies may try to make the desperate case that gas is in the public interest by 'certifying' their gas as 'cleaner,' 'responsibly sourced,' 'climate safe,' or other false advertising," she warned. "Our lawmakers are wise to call for a stop to this scam, and get ahead of what's likely to be a mad scramble to greenwash gas. Only phasing out fossil fuels will solve the climate crisis and protect the health and safety of our communities."