Around Oregon

Lawmakers, advocates ask state to investigate NW Natural for misleading claims

More than two dozen environmental and social justice groups, as well as several current and former state representatives, are asking Oregon’s attorney general to investigate the state’s largest natural gas utility for spreading misinformation about the health and climate risks of gas-burning stoves. 

In a letter sent Monday to Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the coalition – including the Eugene-based nonprofit Beyond Toxics; the NAACP of Eugene and Springfield; Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis; and state Reps. Mark Gamba, D-Milwaukie; Khanh Pham, D-Portland; and Farrah Chaichi, D-Beaverton – asked that Rosenblum use her powers under Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act to investigate and sue NW Natural if appropriate.

“We write again to encourage you to take immediate action against NW Natural’s communications around the air quality risks of gas appliances,” the letter said. 

They said the company, despite understanding the health and climate costs of burning natural gas in homes, continues to downplay risks to consumers at the expense of their health. 

NW Natural did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The group had previously asked Rosenblum to investigate the company in August 2022 over what it said was false advertising in newspapers and school workbooks about natural gas being a “clean energy” and that natural gas appliances were safe.

Natural gas is almost entirely methane – a potent greenhouse gas responsible for at least one-third of global warming today, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Recent studies from universities in Europe, Australia and the U.S. have found natural gas stoves increase the risk of respiratory problems and asthma in kids. 

Rosenblum’s director of communications, Roy Kaufmann, said in an email that the attorney general is reviewing the letter but did not say when or how she might react. “We appreciate the letter from the environmental groups and its stated concerns,” he said. 

Big tobacco’s playbook

The coalition wants the company, which serves about 80% of Oregon’s natural gas customers, to disclose to customers via mail, email and the company’s website the health risks of gas appliances and the role natural gas and methane play in global climate change.

“Gas companies have a moral and legal obligation to accurately represent the risks their products pose to consumers. Unfortunately, they have continuously and egregiously failed to do so,” Gamba of Milwaukie said in a news conference. 

The lawmakers accused NW Natural and the industry of using tobacco industry marketing tactics to mislead customers about the health risks. Gamba repeated the January revelation from the New York Times that NW Natural had hired a toxicologist linked to big tobacco to testify in favor of gas appliances in front of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. He said the company continues to spend a significant amount of money trying to defeat proposed natural gas bans in Eugene and Milwaukie.

Recent reporting from the Virginia-based nonprofit Climate Investigations Center revealed that natural gas companies have known since at least the 1970s that the combustion of gas indoors, and specifically from nitrogen dioxide that is emitted when it burns, is not healthy. 

Pham of Portland expressed concerns that gas pollution from appliances is disproportionately hurting people who lack safer alternatives.

“We know that low-income families and families of color are more likely to rent their home, where they have little or no control over their fuel source, and 90% of rental homes do not have adequate ventilation to remove gas stove emissions, according to the National Center for Healthy Housing,” she said.


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