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Misleading RMI Report On Gas Appliances Is Tone-Deaf to Low-Income Communities

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As has become customary, Rocky Mountain Institute published another misinformed report espousing the harm of using gas stoves in households. RMI suggests replacing stoves in favor of empowering an electrification movement. The misinformed scare tactics RMI uses are unsurprising given the company it keeps: Physicians for Social Responsibility, Mothers Out Front, and Sierra Club. This collaboration has been banging the drum steadily on this issue with little concern for the facts to achieve one goal – the elimination of natural gas use in the United States.

A coordinated campaign

The misguided push to electrify everything has been a coordinated campaign, advanced by groups funded by foundations like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and influenced by billionaires like Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg. Billionaires that don’t know what it’s like to choose between paying a utility bill and putting food on the table.  In fact, RMI received $2.3 million from Bloomberg Philanthropy in May 2019 to “evaluate and analyze current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions reductions.” So RMI proceeded to focus on a household staple that emits less than four percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. One that would have an incredibly disparate impact on vulnerable citizens.

Fact is there are many innovative natural gas technologies available today in the residential sector, which offer significant emissions reductions.  However, including these technologies wouldn’t advance RMI’s goal of banning natural gas use in the United States beginning at the local level.  Instead they insist that electrification is the only way to protect vulnerable citizens.  Let’s take a deeper look at the issues at hand:

Safety

The majority of information that RMI uses to support its agenda fails to distinguish modern gas stoves with electric ignition from gas stoves with a continuous pilot light. The fact is that electronic ignition stoves emit less nitrogen dioxide (NO2) .  This is confirmed in the Baltimore study cited by RMI, in which the scientists documented that homes with a continuous pilot light had higher baseline concentrations of the particulate.

RMI points to Canada’s 2015 revised guidelines for NO2 as a model for the United States. What RMI fails to mention is that Canada is in no rush to replace gas appliances with electric ones.  In fact, Canada offers the same advice that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers: use back burners instead of front burners; open windows while cooking; and run the fan in your furnace or ventilation system. Canada’s fact sheet on indoor air quality estimates that:

“Running a range hood exhaust on high (300 cubic feet/minute) during cooking can reduce exposure to cooking-related pollutants by more than 80 percent when compared to slower speeds.”

Even in households without ventilation connected to exterior exhaust, indoor ventilation is greatly assisted by opening windows to circulate air. The benefit that ventilation offers is conveniently brushed aside in their publication because of the human element.

“A survey of over 350 California residents showed that 40 to 60 percent did not use an exhaust hood or open windows while cooking … some survey results show people largely do not feel that exhaust fans are needed, and for others, the fans are too noisy or people simply do not think of using them. In short, we cannot rely on current exhaust ventilation practices alone to protect families from unsafe levels of gas stove pollution.”

The solution that RMI offers for user failure is that gas stoves should be replaced.  In the same way that you open a door when you need to start your car in a garage or put a fresh coat of paint on your walls with the windows open, proper ventilation is important when cooking too. The point RMI misses is that you can do this without throwing out your entire appliance and simultaneously renovating your kitchen to accommodate the change. Do you buy a new car because your current one needs new air filters? Of course not, and properly maintaining appliances is no different.

Protecting at-risk communities

In the report, RMI attempts to make a point of protecting at risk communities from gas stove emissions while ignoring these communities’ most visceral concern: energy affordability.

According to a California’s Gridworks report:

“One-third of California households do not have sufficient income to meet their basic costs of living and energy insecurity affects approximately 25 percent of Californians today.”

Any modest increase in utility price would threaten the 33 percent of California’s households classified as low income with mass shut-offs and economic dislocations.  This isn’t just the case in California.  According to the Department of Energy:

“Low-income households spend a larger portion of their income on home energy costs (e.g., electricity, natural gas, and other home heating fuels) than other households spend.”

This is especially so in black and Hispanic communities, where poverty rates tend to be higher. While groups like RMI are fighting to prevent natural gas in homes and businesses, civil rights leaders like Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have opposed such a drastic shift away from natural gas and instead are advocating for building new pipelines to ensure a reliable, affordable supply of this resource to some of the country’s most impoverished communities like Pembroke, Illinois.

Forcing these and other households across the nation to replace safe and economical gas stoves with electric – or denying them the choice to have it in the first place – would mean increasing their energy burden and reducing already limited available income.  It is apparent that groups like RMI and Sierra Club are not looking out for the best interests of these vulnerable citizens, instead, they are pushing their own policy agenda.

Conclusion

RMI’s report is skewed to fit an electrification movement that promises to deliver little benefit at an enormous cost. Its policy recommendations fail to take into account proposer safety and use of gas stoves, or the costs inherited by consumers and unequally burdened at-risk communities they claim to protect. Why?  Because the facts don’t fit the story they’d like you to believe. Electrification is not necessary to improve indoor air quality.  Plain and simple.

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