Gas Stoves & Clever Misinformation

Mother Jones illustration; Getty

Thanks to Mother Jones for this article spotlighting why you might want to rethink your attachment to gas as a cooking fuel:

How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves

And why they’re scared we might break up with their favorite appliance.

In early 2020, Wilson Truong posted on the Nextdoor social media platform—where users can send messages to a group in their neighborhood—in a Culver City, California, community. Writing as if he were a resident of the Fox Hills neighborhood, Truong warned the group members that their city leaders were considering stronger building codes that would discourage natural gas lines in newly built homes and businesses. In a message with the subject line “Culver City banning gas stoves?” Truong wrote: “First time I heard about it I thought it was bogus, but I received a newsletter from the city about public hearings to discuss it…Will it pass???!!! I used an electric stove but it never cooked as well as a gas stove so I ended up switching back.”

Truong’s post ignited a debate. One neighbor, Chris, defended electric induction stoves. “Easy to clean,” he wrote about the glass stovetop, which uses a magnetic field to heat pans. Another user, Laura, was nearly incoherent in her outrage. “No way,” she wrote, “I am staying with gas. I hope you can too.”

What these commenters didn’t know was that Truong wasn’t their neighbor at all. He was writing in his role as account manager for the public relations firm Imprenta Communications Group. Imprenta’s client was Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions (C4BES), a front group for SoCalGas, the nation’s largest gas utility, working to fend off state initiatives to limit the future use of gas in buildings. C4BES had tasked Imprenta with exploring how social media platforms, including Nextdoor, could be used to foment community opposition to electrification. Though Imprenta assured me this Nextdoor post was an isolated incident, the C4BES website displays Truong’s comment next to two other anonymous Nextdoor comments as evidence of their advocacy work in action.

The Nextdoor incident is just one of many examples of the newest front in the gas industry’s war to garner public support for their fuel. As more municipalities have moved to phase gas lines out of new buildings to cut down on methane emissions, gas utilities have gone on the defensive, launching anti-electrification campaigns across the country. To ward off a municipal vote in San Luis Obispo, California, during the pandemic, a union representing gas utility workers threatened to bus in “hundreds” of protesters with “no social distancing in place.” In Santa Barbara, California, residents have received robotexts warning a gas ban would dramatically increase their bills. The Pacific Northwest group Partnership for Energy Progress, funded in part by Washington state’s largest natural gas utility, Puget Sound Energy, has spent at least $1 million opposing heating electrification in Bellingham and Seattle, including $91,000 on bus ads showing a happy family cooking with gas next to the slogan: “Reliable. Affordable. Natural Gas. Here for You.” In Oklahoma, Arizona, Louisiana, and Tennessee, where electrification campaigns have not yet taken off, the industry has worked aggressively with state legislatures to pass laws—up to a dozen are in the works—that would prevent cities from passing cleaner building codes…

Read the whole story here.

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