OPINION: Holding the gas industry accountable
In every life, in every movement, there are moments that define the path forward.
For me, one of those life-defining moments as an individual was when I realized that children and I suffered for years with shortness of breath, headaches, and constant problems with our eyes because we couldn't afford to pay the high heating bills that would have kept mold from infecting our home in the winter.
That is why I stood up and spoke out to help pass a bill last year that is requiring utility companies to make energy more affordable for low-income Oregonians. That year, we also passed legislation requiring that our state transition off polluting "natural" methane gas and coal as electricity sources with provisions to work with environmental justice communities, tribes and others who bear the brunt of the environmental racism and system inequality that is made worse as our planet gets hotter and dryer. Those pieces of legislation will help determine whether my children have a healthy future where they can thrive, or a more dangerous one.
Now, we have another moment where we can set our future.
A year ago, nearly 100 people died in the triple-digit heat dome, including Sebastian Perez, a farmworker, along many people who were not able to afford safe cooling in their home. Our future depends on ensuring our homes and buildings are heated and cooled with affordable, efficient energy sources that aren't harming our planet.
That is why a record number of people have signed up to testify at a hearing of the Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) on a hearing about the "Future of Gas" usage in our state. This three-person commission has opened an investigation into natural gas in Oregon as gas utilities work to reduce emissions to meet climate regulation. They are also charged with ensuring that the three gas companies in Oregon have real plans to actually reduce greenhouse gases instead of increasing them.
Utility regulators at the commission must hold the gas utilities accountable because we know that the oil and gas industry consistently put profits before people. This year alone, NW Natural has proposed raising the bills for their residential customers approximately 12% to pay for expenses, including executive salaries and bonuses and false advertising that hides the risk to our health of breathing and burning their product in our homes. They have also sued to rollback protections against climate pollution.
Here is the path to a healthier future that utility regulators must implement to stop the expensive and dangerous expansion of polluting gas:
• No more subsidies for fossil fuels. Eliminate the subsidies that gas customers pay for the companies to expand their pipelines and infrastructure. These dollars should go instead to low-income efficiency and clean, electric solutions.
• Expanded programs to support a just clean energy transition. Instead of paying the gas industry to expand fossil fuels, we should make it more affordable for families to reduce fossil fuel use.
The gas and oil industry is very powerful. They have high-paid lobbyists who whisper in the ears of policy makers and political action committees that write big checks. We must make sure they are not more powerful than the people.
This is a moment that we must grab. Our very lives and health depend on it.
Submit your comments to the Public Utility Commission and make your voice heard.
Diana Delgado Gonzalez is a Hillsboro resident.
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