Like many cities across the US, the rapidly expanding and gentrifying Texas city of Austin is looking to shrink its climate footprint. So its initial plan was to virtually eliminate gas use in new buildings by 2030 and existing ones by 2040. Homes and businesses would have to run on electricity and stop using gas for heat, hot water and stoves. The gas burned in buildings causes about 12% of US climate pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Cities are trying to shrink those heat-trapping emissions with building codes and mandates to switch from gas to electric appliances.
The proposal, an existential threat to the Texas Gas Service. The company drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials. The company struck out references to “electrification”, and replaced them with “decarbonization”– a policy that wouldn’t rule out gas. It replaced “electric vehicles” with “alternative fuel vehicles”, which could run on compressed natural gas. It offered to help the city to plant more trees to absorb climate pollution and to explore technologies to pull carbon dioxide out of the air – both of which might help it to keep burning gas.
The most recently published draft of the climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and it allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them.
The lobbying in Austin is not unique.
Similar happened scaling back with San Antonio’s climate ambitions where the fossil fuel industry managed to install its preferred consultants and write its own “Flexible Path” that would let it keep polluting.
The gas industry is battling climate change reforms in cities around the USA. In Texas, lawmakers have introduced two bills that would prohibit local governments from banning gas connections. Four other state legislatures passed similar laws last year, and 12 more have seen proposals for them in 2021.
The gas lobby, the American Gas Association's president, Karen Harbert, said, “Over the course of the year, legislation preserving energy choice for customers passed in Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee,” Harbert said.