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Climate and Environment

SoCal Gas Penalized For Using Customer Money To Fight Climate Policy

A close-up image of a lit gas stovetop.
SoCal Gas will be fined nearly $10 million for using customer money to fight state climate policies, like one that prevents gas stoves in new buildings.
(Kwon Junho
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The California Public Utilities Commission will fine L.A.-based utility company Southern California Gas Company, or SoCal Gas, for misusing ratepayer funds.

SoCal Gas will have to pay back nearly $10 millionfor illegally using customer money to fight state climate change policies, according to a decision filed Thursday.

The state’s consumer watchdog branch, CalAdvocates, found that SoCal Gas used ratepayer funds to lobby against landmark climate regulations, like California’s new building code. That requires most new buildings to be free of fossil fuels, such as gas, by 2023. In L.A., buildings account for nearly 40% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, mostly because of energy efficiency issues and gas-fed appliances.

The state found that the utility company used customer money to lobby against stricter energy standards despite a 2018 commission order prohibiting them from using customer funds for that purpose. The investor-owned utility can use other funds for lobbying purposes, but is not allowed to use funds generated by ratepayers.

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“It's finally showing some level of accountability for this behavior,” said Matt Vespa, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, the environmental group representing the Sierra Club in this proceeding. “SoCal Gas has really been abusing the public trust.”

The state utilities commission also had some scathing words for SoCal Gas, writing in the decision that “SoCalGas repeatedly chose to substitute its own judgment for the Commission’s so as to avoid compliance with a Commission order. Such insolence must be accorded a high degree of severity.”

The penalty applies to SoCalGas’s use of funds after 2018. The state utility commission has yet to decide whether there should be additional penalties for similar uses of funds prior to that date.

SoCal Gas spokesperson Christine Detz wrote in an emailed statement to that the utility company is reviewing the decision. “We expect, and look forward to further engagement on this issue,” she wrote.

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