Diary

Politicians Should Take the Hippocratic Oath

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This week I was in Oxnard providing testimony to the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The Commission generously afforded me 60-seconds to make my case.

The PUC has launched a public process to determine ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in every nook and cranny of every building in California so we can meet our state’s climate goals.

Please make no mistake about it; this will have profound implications for our choice of the energy and appliances we buy and use, and also for energy affordability and reliability.

Even though there are a wide variety of ways to reduce emissions from commercial and residential buildings, not surprisingly, some elected state legislators and their appointed regulators are advancing a singular pathway called “electrification.”

Electrification means converting all existing natural gas end uses in buildings to electricity, including space and water heating, cooking, and commercial and industrial equipment.

Those who support this extreme scheme make the argument that because electricity in California is generated increasingly from renewable resources, it is the only power source that should be available to consumers.

Is this another well-intended public policy from an enlightened generation of Golden State politicians? Maybe. When it comes to the religion of environmentalism, well intended is debatable. Was the Spanish Inquisition well-intended?

There is no debate; however, that electrification will drive up utility bills in California to the point where only affluent people will be able to justify living here.

What California’s working families need is a balanced portfolio of both renewal and abundant energy sources, including and perhaps even primarily, natural gas because it is plentiful and affordable.

Moreover, thanks to the rapid decline in the cost of natural gas, there have been real environmental gains.

For example, according to the Energy Information Administration, since the start of the technology-driven shale revolution in 2006, annual sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions have seen a reduction of 57 percent.

This misguided approach to achieve electrification would send energy costs soaring, especially for those who can least afford it. Where is the economic justice with such a policy?

It’s worth noting that according to a recent Urban Institute study, 60% of families living in poverty have experienced what economists call “material hardship.”

Material hardship is when a family cannot afford to purchase groceries or visit the doctor, and in many cases, pay their household utility bills.

For those families earning less than $30,000 a year of pre-tax income, 27% of their after-tax income goes to household energy costs.

So, just as in medicine, the Hippocratic oath Requires doctors first, do no harm, in politics, politicians should also commit to do no harm.