The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Climate 202

How dark money groups led Ohio to redefine gas as ‘green energy’

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Because of a technical issue, the top of Friday’s newsletter had formatting issues. We apologize. And thanks to all of the readers who appreciated the puns in Thursday’s newsletter. We will never apologize for puns.

Reading this online? Sign up for The Climate 202 to get scoops and sharp analysis in your inbox each morning.

In Ohio, natural gas is ‘green’ now. Documents show how dark money groups led to this law.

When Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed legislation this month to redefine natural gas as a source of “green energy,” supporters characterized it as the culmination of a grass-roots effort to recognize the Buckeye state’s largest energy source.

But the new law is anything but homegrown, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

The Empowerment Alliance, a dark money group with ties to the gas industry, helped Ohio lawmakers push the narrative that the fuel is clean, the documents show. The American Legislative Exchange Council, another anonymously funded group, assisted in the effort.

ALEC — a network of state lawmakers, businesses and conservative donors — circulated proposed legislation for Ohio lawmakers and has urged other states to follow suit, according to the documents, which were obtained via a public records request by the Energy and Policy Institute, a group that advocates for renewable energy.

“What the emails reveal is just how closely Ohio lawmakers coordinated with a natural gas industry group on the new law that misleadingly defines methane gas as green energy, as the first step of a plan to introduce similar legislation in multiple states,” said Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.

Although Ohio Republicans say they are trying to promote their state’s energy industry, critics have called the new law misleading and “Orwellian.” Unlike renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, natural gas and other fossil fuels emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

The law also adds to a fierce linguistic debate, one amped up by the recent furor over gas stoves and their health effects. Climate activists have urged politicians and journalists to stop using the term “natural gas” and instead use “methane gas,” since its primary component is a powerful planet-warming pollutant.

‘On the right track’

Last summer, the documents show, a leader of the Empowerment Alliance emailed Ohio state Sens. George Lang (R) and Mark Romanchuk (R) to share a report from Goldman Sachs on the “importance of natural gas” in North America and globally.

“We are on the right track with natural gas is green energy,” wrote Tom Rastin, who leads the Empowerment Alliance with his wife, Karen Buchwald Wright.

As of last fall, Rastin and his wife were listed in Federal Election Commission filings as executives at Ariel Corp., a manufacturer of natural gas compressors. The couple also are major Republican donors who have dined with former president Donald Trump. Under their leadership, the alliance spent more than $1 million supporting Ohio Republicans in the 2022 elections.

Both lawmakers thanked Rastin for sending the report. And a week later, Lang emailed Rastin from the annual ALEC conference in Atlanta, saying he’d be leaving the convention “with some model legislation to define … that natural gas is clean energy.”

ALEC is known for drafting and disseminating “model” state legislation that tends to advance conservative, pro-business priorities. Several high-profile corporate members, however, have cut ties with the group over what they see as its opposition to climate action, including Google, BP and Facebook.

As nonprofits, ALEC and the Empowerment Alliance are not required to disclose their donors, part of the influx of dark money in American politics. ALEC and Lang did not respond to requests for comment. Romanchuk, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

Anthony Conchel, a spokesman for the Empowerment Alliance (TEA), said in an email that “Natural Gas is Green is not an original TEA idea” and noted that natural gas has lower carbon dioxide emissions than coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

“In our view, that is the very definition of green energy,” Conchel said.

‘Guess what? They are clean’

In addition to circulating the model bill, ALEC helped broadcast a talking point for its proponents: The European Parliament had recently voted to move ahead with a plan to label nuclear power and natural gas as “green” in some circumstances, a response to energy challenges created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Europe has now defined nuclear power and natural gas as clean energy sources. And guess what? They are clean energy sources,” Stephen Moore, a conservative commentator, said on a panel at the ALEC conference, drawing loud applause from the audience.

“So what you need to do in your states is change your renewable energy requirements,” Moore added. “If you don’t get rid of them altogether, you should redefine what clean energy is to include yes, clean nuclear power and yes, natural gas.”

Romanchuk, the author of the amendment that defined gas as green, also looked across the Atlantic for inspiration. In a December email, one of his aides acknowledged that his amendment was “inspired by a European Union vote last summer to classify natural gas as green energy.”

The Empowerment Alliance, meanwhile, has barely paused to celebrate its victory in Ohio. The group is already targeting other energy-rich states, according to a newsletter with the subject line “Ohio is Red, Gas is Blue, and Green too!” sent to supporters on Friday.

“States like Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia are top energy producing states,” the group wrote in the newsletter. “They should follow suit, encouraging their local and state lawmakers to enact similar legislation.”

You can read Maxine’s full story here.

International climate

Kerry backs UAE oil exec leading COP28 climate talks

U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry said Sunday that he supports the United Arab Emirates’ decision to name Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil firms, as president of this fall’s international climate summit, Jon Gambrell reports for the Associated Press.

“I think that Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is a terrific choice because he is the head of the company. That company knows it needs to transition,” Kerry said in an interview after attending the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi. “He knows — and the leadership of the UAE is committed to transitioning.”

His comments come after some environmentalists criticized Al Jaber’s appointment for posing a potential conflict of interest, with one climate activist calling the move “tantamount to putting the head of a tobacco company in charge of negotiating an anti-smoking treaty.”

Al Jaber, who runs the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., is also the UAE’s minister of industry and advanced technology and the chief executive of Masdar, a renewable energy company based in Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile, during a speech Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Kerry said he thinks the world will eventually move to a low-carbon economy, but it may be too late to avert the worst effects of climate change, Anmar Frangoul reports for CNBC.

“I am not convinced we’re going to get there in time to do what the scientists said, which is avoid the worst consequences of the crisis," he told the audience at the conference, which includes sustainability and global warming as a major focus of discussions.

Pressure points

Arizona city cuts off a neighborhood’s water supply amid drought

As an exceptional, years-long drought parches the West and imperils the Colorado River, Scottsdale, Ariz., has cut off the Rio Verde Foothills community from the municipal water supply it has used for decades without a dependable alternative, The Washington Post’s Joshua Partlow reports. 

The neighborhood of more than 2,000 homes previously relied primarily on the Colorado River for more than 100 acre-feet of water per year. But the community has been without a steady supply since Jan. 1, leaving residents concerned about how they will find enough water when their tanks run out in the coming weeks.

The prolonged drought and shrinking reservoirs have already led to unprecedented restrictions in usage of the Colorado River. The federal government is now pressing seven states to cut 2 to 4 million acre-feet more, up to 30 percent of the river’s annual average flow.

Rio Verde Foothills residents are bitterly divided over the best solution to the crisis. Some residents have sought to form their own water district to purchase water from elsewhere in the state, while another group prefers enlisting a Canadian utility company to supply the community.

Extreme events

Deadly storms in California are finally weakening

The atmospheric rivers that have dumped 24 trillion gallons of water from the sky, closed off roads, caused landslides and knocked out power across parts of California this month are finally beginning to lose strength, the Department of Water Resources said Monday even as a new storm arrived, Kim Bellware reports for The Post. 

Michael Anderson, a climatologist with the state agency, said during a Monday news conference that another storm system expected to hit the state later this week “barely qualifies” as an atmospheric river.

But the state is still coping with the devastation of the storms, which have killed at least 19 people, making them more deadly than any wildfire in the state since 2018. Experts say the death toll could indicate that Californians are not accustomed to the dangers of rain and flash flooding. 

As temperatures rise because of human-caused climate change, atmospheric rivers are projected to become wetter, larger and more damaging in the future, scientists warn.

In the atmosphere


Thanks for reading!