By Raleigh Gerber on

By Thomas Lawson, president of the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition

How to address California’s climate change issues in a way that works for minority communities is the topic of robust and ongoing debate, as it should be.

As president of the California Natural Gas Vehicle coalition, I work tirelessly every day to educate people about how to best reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve California’s climate change goals.

I know firsthand the incredible opportunities that renewable natural gas (RNG) offers – it is a carbon negative energy source, meaning it actually reduces carbon emissions from the air rather than emitting it. RNG can be delivered right to people where they live and work, and it dramatically reduces transportation emissions. RNG vehicles powering heavy duty trucks are far cleaner than trucks powered by dirty, polluting fossil-fueled engines.

Californians have always embraced innovative and balanced solutions to address our most pressing environmental problems, and we are not afraid to work alongside those who may have different views.  That is why I was so surprised and disappointed to see Ivan Penn’s recent piece in the New York Times titled, “NAACP Tells Local Chapters:  Don’t Let Energy Industry Manipulate You.

The underlying assumptions in Mr. Penn’s piece, that all minorities should hold the same views on energy policy or share the same notions of what constitutes environmental justice, are wrong and offensive. The NAACP, like any other national organization, is comprised of members with diverse experiences and viewpoints.

Particularly in California, minority communities know that one of the most pressing issues in our community is the rising cost of living and housing affordability.  Even Mr. Penn’s newspaper, the New York Times, recently noted that the national homelessness rate rose in 2019 due almost exclusively to California’s homelessness crisis. Far from being “manipulated” by the gas industry, many NAACP members are simply advocating that all-electric environmental policies being pushed in our state must consider the costs and alternatives amidst the affordability crises our state faces.

RNG can achieve the same emissions reductions as mandating 100% all-electric homes and buildings. By using biomethane, produced when waste emissions from farms, dairies, and landfills is captured, we can deliver this carbon neutral energy right to people’s homes and to heavy duty trucks and buses as a clean fuel.  And RNG will help California achieve its climate change goals without the astronomical costs imposed by those who favor all-electrification.

Studies estimate that eliminating natural gas and switching to all-electric appliances could cost California residents up to $7,200 and would increase energy bills by $388 per year. In a state where energy costs are roughly 40% higher for consumers than the national average, minority advocates are right to be concerned.

One-size-fits-all policies and viewpoint exclusion rarely work to address pressing problems, and climate change is no different.  Policymakers should embrace multiple forms of energy, including natural gas and renewable natural gas to achieve our goals.

When coalitions and minority groups like the NAACP embrace these solutions or work alongside industry to solve these problems, we should celebrate, not criticize them.

Originally published in the Los Angeles Daily News, January 24, 2020