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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Customer files complaint against Texas Gas Service lobbying
Wednesday, September 30, 2020 by Jo Clifton
The city of Austin is working on a new Climate Equity Plan. The previous plan set a target date of 2050 for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the city; the new plan moves that date to 2040. One of the ways the city wants to lower emissions is to increase Austin Energy’s use of renewable sources of energy and to reduce emissions from natural gas. The plan specifically says the city wants to keep the rates affordable. Texas Gas Service, the utility that provides gas to Austin and to many other Texas communities, is telling customers via email that the electrification of new building construction “can severely increase costs for local businesses and our customers.” Texas Gas Service urges customers to take the city of Austin survey on the climate plan and notes that it is “in conversations with city staff and Council offices to express our concerns related to the plan.” When environmental activist and consumer advocate Paul Robbins got the email he was concerned that the gas company was using a proprietary email list as a political lobbying tool. In the complaint he filed with the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees Texas Gas Service, Robbins noted that tens of thousands of other customers likely got the same email, but if he were to ask for those email addresses to lobby on behalf of some cause, “TGS would likely refuse to provide them because it would violate customers’ privacy.” Robbins, who recently opposed the 13 percent rate increase for Texas Gas Service, concludes that the same rule should apply to the gas company for any online communication that does not involve “a narrowly defined business use.” Another TGS customer, Julio Gonzalez Altamirano, also got the company’s email. He told the Austin Monitor he was frustrated by the idea that Texas Gas Service was lobbying on his behalf. “They should talk to customers before they talk on behalf of customers,” he said. “I think they might be surprised about what people think is affordable. I have a widely different perspective on what is affordable and I think a lot of their other customers would too.”
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