Environmental activists are lobbying the Biden administration to block gas companies from using the term “natural gas” in their marketing materials, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
The use of the term natural gas allows the gas industry to sell itself as cleaner and safer than its product actually is, according to environmental advocacy group Gas Leaks. Gas Leaks, along with other environmental groups like Clean Creatives and Food & Water Watch, is pushing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to restrict the use of the term “natural gas” — replacing it with the terms “methane gas” or “fossil gas” — in addition to other terms they believe companies overuse, according to Bloomberg.
“There’s nothing natural about fracking; there’s nothing natural about thousands of miles of pipelines and there’s nothing natural about the indoor air pollution that is associated with gas,” Caleb Heeringa, campaign director at Gas Leaks, told Bloomberg. The term originally emerged in the 1820s to distinguish the naturally occurring methane and hydrocarbon gasses formed underground from those produced by the burning of coal and oil.
Gas Leaks is at #SEJ2023 to make the case that words matter. The fossil fuel industry has spent decades and millions of dollars to make the public associate methane gas with words like “clean” “reliable” and “natural.” Call it what it is! https://t.co/8GXMmSKewD pic.twitter.com/JVsciGGAjj
— GasLeaksAction (@GasLeaksAction) April 21, 2023
The green groups’ campaign seeks to influence the FTC’s Green Guides, the set of rules governing company’s environmental messaging in marketing, which have not been updated since 2012, according to Bloomberg. When FTC Chair Lina Khan first launched the agency’s initiative to update the policy last year, she claimed that many companies were overstating the climate benefits of their policies, putting truly green businesses at a “competitive disadvantage.”
Industry advocates have criticized the campaign, which Scott Segal, an attorney at Bracewell LLP who has represented members of the oil industry, characterized as an attempt “to hijack the discussion [around natural gas] with made-up terms,” according to Bloomberg.
“Attempting to change the name of a long-used commodity to suit political tastes of the day seems to be the complete opposite of FTC’s mission,” Segal told the outlet. “It makes the discussion more opaque and less accessible to the general public.”
Segal’s concerns were echoed by Michael Murray, general counsel of the American Gas Association, who told Bloomberg that the phrase “has a history of use colloquially and in reference works, legislation and academic journals … [and is] instantly recognizable to customers for what it is: the name of a vital source of energy for tens of millions of Americans.”
The FTC is charged with determining when a company’s marketing is “unfair and deceptive,” and has said it will base the Green Guides on how customers could reasonably interpret a claim, as opposed to strict definitions, according to Bloomberg.
Natural gas is considered an “efficient, relatively clean burning, and economical energy source,” according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Department of Energy. (RELATED: Biden’s EPA Has An Ultimatum For US Coal And Gas Plants: Use Costly, Unproven Tech Or Shut Down)
The FTC declined to comment.
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