Earth & Environment
March 21, 2023: Earth Day: April 22—One Way to Celebrate: Consider Getting Off Gas
Posted on March 21, 2023 at 12:00 AM
By Jean Stewart, Chair, Earth & Environment Task Force
The Earth & Environment Task Force article in this Newsletter includes information about why “natural” gas (fracked gas, mostly methane) is bad for the environment and for our own health.
New technology in electric power makes it more efficient and cost effective to switch to electric home appliances. Electric heat pumps have been greatly improved since they were first introduced, and now provide reliable heating and cooling. Induction stoves are much better for cooking than the old electric stoves many still use (or remember) and combine the good qualities of gas (rapid heating and cooling) with none of the drawbacks. The initial investment is not cheap, but over time is very cost effective, while gas utility rates will continue to increase.
Washington Gas Proposes Big Rate Increase
Washington Gas (WGL) is seeking a rate increase of 20.4% that will cost DC residents an enormous amount for false solutions to climate change. Instead, it will keep us hooked on fossil fuels and locked into paying for an enormously expensive project to replace all the gas pipes serving the District of Columbia. WGL wants approval to charge residents $672 million dollars from 2024 to 2028 for pipe replacements (our current pipes are old and leak a lot) and ultimately $4.4 billion to replace the entire pipe network. As the DC Sierra Club chapter states, “DC residents should not be burdened with the multi-billion dollar cost of propping up a declining dirty energy company. Instead DC should invest in transitioning to clean energy from electricity which saves money, improves indoor air quality, and reduces climate pollution.”1
The DC Public Service Commission (DCPSC), which regulates utilities to ensure that rates are just and reasonable, held public hearings on the proposed WGL rate increase during the first week of February. I joined several other people from local environmental groups on February 7 to testify against the proposed rate increase. Below is the text of my testimony, based on my personal concerns about cost, pollution, and climate issues in this city. (For more information on the problems of methane gas, see https://www.beyondgasdc.org.)
Testimony for the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia
Hearing on the WGL Proposed Rate Increase, February 7, 2023
Good evening, Mr. Chairman and Commissioners,
My name is Jean Stewart, and I am a senior and 53-year resident of Ward 1. My rental apartment is in a building fueled by methane gas. My personal concerns are first about the financial impact this very large rate increase in our gas-powered building will have on my, and my neighbors’, rents. I am retired and on a semi-fixed income, so this would be a tremendous financial blow for me. I have other neighbors who are retired, as well as young families that would also have trouble paying much higher rents. Second, our gas stoves are not vented, so we are fully exposed to the indoor air pollution coming from burning methane gas from our stoves, a particular health hazard for our young children, and for older neighbors who may have asthma and/or other pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases. The scientific research about the health hazards of burning methane gas indoors are now indisputable. Newer research shows that our gas stoves leak gas even when not in use: unburned gas also contains, besides methane, noxious substances including benzene, a carcinogen.
Fracked gas is also hazardous to more than our indoor air. Many of us in DC participated with the Washington Interfaith Network and the local Sierra Club in a leak detection project, mapping gas leaks in several neighborhoods, including lower income neighborhoods, and here in Ward 1. The results showed how leaky gas is: in Adams Morgan our biggest leak was right is in front of a Harris Teeter market; another large leak was in front of a church. But the answer is not the $4.4 billion needed to replace the pipelines.
This is because of the looming climate crisis, and what continued dependence on fossil fuels, like methane, is doing to everyone’s well-being. Gas is not the fuel of the future, but of the past. Heavy financial investment in methane gas is terribly costly, and will in the not too distant future leave us with stranded assets, like a new network of gas pipelines that we will continue to pay dearly for even as we all convert to clean and cheaper electricity. You have already heard from many tonight on the dollar amounts the requested rate increase will cost us, and the declining costs of shifting to renewable sources of energy. Please also consider the costs to our city of a fossil fuel-accelerated climate crisis: infrastructure damage from floods, health and life costs from increasing heat waves, and damages from more powerful storms knocking our trees down onto homes, cars, and sometimes people.
Thank you for giving me the chance to testify to my opposition to WGL’s requested rate increase.