Maryland PIRG Foundation’s national affiliates file groundbreaking greenwashing lawsuit against Washington Gas in DC

Media Contacts

Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Johanna Neumann

Senior Director, Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Taran Volckhausen

Former Communications Associate, The Public Interest Network

In Maryland, Washington Gas engages in similarly deceptive marketing practices to those identified in suit

Baltimore  – U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center – which are national affiliates of Maryland PIRG Foundation  — and ClientEarth filed a lawsuit against Washington Gas in District of Columbia Superior Court on Thursday over misleading customers on the environmental impacts of natural gas, which is mostly made up of methane. The groups have found examples of Washington Gas similarly greenwashing the environmental impacts of methane gas in customer-facing communications in Maryland.  In November, the Maryland Office of the People’s Counsel filed a complaint with the Public Service Commission against Washington Gas and Affiliate for deceptive green marketing.

“This lawsuit sends a signal to Washington Gas  and other gas utilities that they need to stop greenwashing methane gas,” said Maryland PIRG Foundation Director Emily Scarr. “Consumers have a right to the facts about the environmental and health impacts of the products and services they use – including where they get their energy. It’s time to stop letting gas companies greenwash polluting fossil fuels like gas.” 

Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is a relatively short-lived but super-potent greenhouse gas with 80 times the climate-warming harm of carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere.  Methane commonly escapes when extracting and transporting natural gas – making it a significant contributor to climate change before it is even burned. Then, when it is burned, the combustion of natural gas releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Methane is responsible for nearly half of global warming to date.

With extreme heat and drought affecting much of the country, the impacts of climate change are already  visible this summer.  According to data from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Berkeley Earth, 2021 was the seventh in a row in which global temperatures were more than 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial average. And yet, Washington Gas consistently refers to methane gas in customer facing materials as “clean” and sustainable, and even includes on its bills a colorful picture of flowers, with text describing natural gas as a “smart choice for the environment” compared to electrification.

“Companies are legally obliged to be honest with the public, including about how their businesses may impact the environment and safety of consumers,” said ClientEarth lawyer Tyler Highful. “We believe Washington Gas is violating U.S. consumer protection law by greenwashing the environmental impact of its highly polluting fossil fuels – its customers, and the public, are owed the truth. We cannot underestimate the real world impact energy company greenwashing has on the pace of change.”

As a first-of-its-kind suit in the United States, the environmental, consumer groups claim Washington Gas, which delivers gas to more than one million residential, commercial and industrial customers, has violated Washington, D.C.’s consumer protection laws. 

The groups are asking the court to require Washington Gas to stop using misleading language and images that exaggerate the environmental benefits of natural gas in their customer-facing materials. The company’s claims are out of step with the D.C.’s climate policies. In July, the D.C. council passed legislation that requires all new buildings and substantial renovations to be net-zero starting in 2026. To achieve the goal, the bill bans most use of methane gas in new buildings. At the same time, the council passed legislation committing to make the entire city carbon neutral by 2045. 

“The sooner Maryland gets off gas, the better,” said Scarr “Today’s lawsuit signals that utility marketing campaigns that try to sell ‘clean’ fossil fuels are officially off limits.”