4 August 2022
What is the case about?
We are teaming up with environmental and consumer groups in the United States to bring a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against District of Colombia power utility Washington Gas, over greenwashing in its marketing.
We’ve filed a lawsuit with US PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center, arguing that Washington Gas Light Company, has violated Washington, D.C.’s consumer protection laws for labelling its gas power as clean and sustainable.
Why are we taking this case?
Our lawsuit alleges Washington Gas – which delivers fossil gas to more than one million residential, commercial and industrial customers – is using misleading language and images that promote gas’ environmental benefits to customers.
Washington Gas consistently refers to fossil gas in customer-facing materials as clean and sustainable, and even includes on its bills a colorful picture of flowers, with text describing gas as a “smart choice for the environment” compared to electrification.
However, the reality is that fossil gas is anything but “clean, efficient and reliable.”
We believe these marketing messages are in violation of D.C.’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which makes it a violation “to engage in an unfair or deceptive trade practice, whether or not any consumer is in fact misled, deceived or damaged.”
Companies are legally obliged to be honest with the public, including about how their businesses may impact the environment and safety of consumers - Tyler Highful.
US-based ClientEarth lawyer Tyler Highful said: “We believe Washington Gas is violating U.S. consumer protection law by greenwashing the environmental impact of its highly polluting fossil fuels – its customers, and the public, are owed the truth.”
Why is Washington Gas’ advertising misleading?
The utility claims that the fossil gas it provides is “clean, efficient and reliable energy” on its monthly bills to customers. They also allege that converting an all-electric home to gas “is the equivalent of planting 2.75 acres of trees or driving 26,520 fewer miles each year.”
Their website also lauds the company’s “sustainability”, and makes additional reference to its commitment to the environment stressing that Washington Gas strives “to be responsible stewards of the environment.”
Washington Gas is not alone in greenwashing the environmental impacts of methane gas. In a survey of utility marketing practices, U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center found examples of similar practices by utilities in California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Why is fossil gas bad for the environment?
Methane gas is a fossil fuel that is actively warming our planet. Throughout its supply chain, there are leaks of methane, which is a super-potent greenhouse gas with 80 times the climate-warming harm of carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Once pumped from the ground, gas then needs to be transported and refined before ultimately being burned – all things that add even more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Methane is responsible for nearly half of global warming to date, and in D.C., despite the Washington Gas’ claims, methane gas represents 23% of the District’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Global gas production has increased by over 50 percent since 2000, with the expansion of fracking in the US being a key driver of its growth.
The fuel is often promoted by the industry and lobbyists as an attractive energy alternative to high-carbon-emitting coal for societal decarbonisation, but in reality fossil gas can be just as, if not more warming to the planet as coal power. The truth is that all fossil fuels must be wound down and eliminated from our energy systems in order to limit planetary warming.