California secures settlement with SoCalGas over ‘misleading’ claims that natural gas is ‘renewable’

Source: BY SHARON UDASIN , The Hill • Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2023

This Jan. 12, 2017 file photo, shows a gas gathering plant on a hilltop at the Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) will likely pay a hefty price for previously peddling natural gas as a “renewable” resource, according to a settlement agreement announced Monday by California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D).

The settlement, which is still subject to court approval, relates to numerous environmental marketing claims that the company made in 2019 describing natural gas as “renewable.”

A recent complaint filed by Bonta on behalf of the people of California accused SoCalGas of “misleading consumers about the environmental attributes of its principal product: natural gas.”

Natural gas can be harnessed from landfills to be converted into useable biomethane, which “is generally regarded as being a ‘renewable fuel,’” the document acknowledged.

But most natural gas — and specifically, the majority of SoCalGas’s natural gas — is derived from fossil fuels, according to the complaint.

“SoCalGas should have known better than to broadcast unqualified claims suggesting that all natural gas is ‘renewable,’” Bonta said in a statement Monday.

“Truth in marketing matters, and it’s required under state law,” the attorney general added.

In an investigation conducted by Bonta’s office — detailed in the complaint — the attorney general alleged that SoCalGas had made misleading statements in a wide array of formats, including print, electronic media, informative displays, backdrops and promotional swag.

Marketing materials were also displayed and distributed at conferences and community events, conveying slogans such as “Natural gas is affordable, clean, and renewable” and “SoCalGas: clean, affordable, renewable,” per the complaint.

Some of these materials, but not all, included additional qualifying information, the document stated.

Among the promotional giveaways were hats, T-shirts and notepads, while a one-day “Heal the Bay” event provided guests with a photo booth backdrop, the complaint noted.

Under the proposed settlement — which would resolve allegations that the company violated California consumer protection laws — SoCalGas would be prohibited from making similar statements characterizing natural gas as “renewable.”

In addition, the company would need to pay $175,000 in penalties, of which 50 percent — $87,500 — will be funneled to the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Small Grants Program to fund a project focused on environmental justice.

SoCalGas would also be required to publish a corrective statement on its website within 14 days of the settlement’s effective date.

“Today’s settlement should send a clear message,” Bonta stressed.

“The California Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable corporations that mislead or deceive consumers about the environmental attributes of a product,” he said.

In response to the proposed settlement, Chris Gilbride, a spokesperson for SoCalGas said that the company is “pleased to have cooperatively resolved this matter.”

“SoCalGas remains committed to delivering increasingly renewable natural gas and other clean fuels to its customers,” Gilbride said.

“This is part of our aim to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and delivery of energy by 2045,” he added.