This originally ran in the Bakersfield Californian, Aug. 2019
Let’s make something clear from the beginning: biomethane is not clean, and the main way it’s produced, via cows and massive dairies, hurts the health of surrounding neighborhoods, which are almost always disadvantaged, low-income communities of color.
We need to challenge our statewide and local elected officials and decision makers to break the stranglehold that fossil fuels have on our state and our politics.
To provoke action, begin with education. A recent opinion piece in The Bakersfield Californian expressed praise for renewable natural gas and methane production, but casts a dark and dubious light on clean energy projects, specifically the use of electricity in homes and buildings (“COMMUNITY VOICES: Keep natural gas and renewable natural gas in California,” Aug. 13).
Propaganda notwithstanding, we know that the future is electric and clean, and the future is now. According to research conducted by Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc., (E3) moving from gas to clean, electric appliances can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate pollution from homes by up to 60 percent in 2020 and by up to 90 percent in 2050. This same group also has research that shows California homeowners and developers can expect considerable financial savings from building and living in all-electric homes compared to homes that use gas for heating and cooking starting right now.
Cities and counties across California are taking note. More than 50 local jurisdictions are considering building codes and ordinances designed to facilitate the transition off of gas appliances to all-electric clean energy homes and buildings. And the infrastructure to support a significant conversion to electricity already exists. Vox, the online news site, reports that “the price of controllable, storable energy is tethered only to technology costs, which are going down, down down…[while] the cost of natural gas power is tethered to the commodity price of natural gas, which is inherently volatile.”
In the Central San Joaquin Valley, major electrification and solar energy projects will soon be underway. The California Public Utilities Commission approved about $56 million in response to community choice to bring a significant amount of clean energy to communities that suffer from the worst air quality in the state.
Our state — our world — is in a climate crisis, and disadvantaged communities are suffering the most. Biomethane gas is primarily and increasingly harvested from huge dairies which contribute to the San Joaquin Valley’s air and water quality crisis. Expanding the capture of this gas means we will need bigger and bigger dairies. These industries are located in low-income communities of color. The larger they grow, the greater the health threat is to these rural areas.
Given the extraordinary impact that gas and fossil fuels have on our health, checking accounts and the living environment, it makes no sense to promote a fuel that relies on the creation of pollution and waste for its very existence. Gas is a dying and dirty fuel, and the sooner we can kill it off, the better off we will be.
One final note, I encourage readers to be careful consumers of information, which should be presented with full transparency. The opinion in the Californian urged readers to visit www.c4BES.org to learn more about biomethane.
However, according to the Los Angeles Times, “…Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions (C4BES) applied last March to be named an official party to a [California] Public Utilities Commission proceeding on the future of gas usage in the state…it declared itself a supporter of fighting climate change…[but] didn’t bother to mention in its application to the PUC, [that] it’s not a grass-roots group, but a creation of Southern California Gas Co.”
C4BES is SoCal Gas. It has an interest in preserving and promoting its financial interests.
Jasmene del Aguila is a Bakersfield native and policy advocate with Leadership Counsel for Justice & Accountability, where she focuses on equal access to basic amenities for low-income communities.