Avista inappropriately billed customers for anti-climate litigation spending, is proposing to increase bills for continued litigation costs, according to testimony submitted by environmental groups to OPUC
Portland, Ore. — Avista charged its gas customers for legal fees associated with its litigation against one of Oregon’s landmark climate policies, the Climate Protection Program (CPP), according to testimony environmental groups submitted today to the Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC). The inappropriate use of customer dollars is the latest example of gas utilities’ extraordinary efforts to fight common-sense climate policy in Oregon.
“Forcing customers to pay for Avista’s profit-driven lawsuit against Oregon climate policy is downright shameful. It demonstrates a blatant disregard for the health and safety of the communities they serve, which are already suffering more extreme heat waves and wildfires due to climate change,” said Noelia Gravotta, an attorney at Earthjustice.
Avista is one of three gas utilities suing the state of Oregon to avoid reducing their emissions 90% by 2050 in line with the state’s CPP plan. Testimony submitted to regulators from the Sierra Club, Climate Solutions, and Earthjustice shows that Avista billed ratepayers more than $51,000 for legal fees paid to two firms, Baker Botts and Snell & Wilmer, for their work on the litigation, and is asking ratepayers to continue financing its litigation efforts.
The litigation costs are one of many expenses environmental groups are challenging as part of their intervention into Avista’s bid to increase gas customers' bills by roughly 8%. Environmental advocates also oppose Avista’s request to charge customers for political influence spending, subsidies for new gas lines, and other capital costs to continue to expand the gas system. Under state law, utilities are only allowed to bill customers for costs that benefit utility customers. All Avista rate increases must be approved by Oregon regulators.
"The Oregon PUC needs to reject bill hikes that expand our state’s fossil fuel system at a time when it should be shrinking. Oregonians are already facing compounding climate, public health, and energy affordability crises,” said Greer Ryan, Clean Buildings Policy Manager, Climate Solutions. “Instead of continuing to invest in expanding an inherently risky and polluting system, we need a rapid but managed transition to clean, healthy, and affordable energy solutions for all.”
The news of Avista’s inappropriate use of customer dollars to fund anti-climate litigation comes amidst heightened concern over the role gas utilities have played in blocking progress in the transition to clean energy in homes. To protect utility customers from paying for lobbying and political spending that is against their financial interest, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, and New York have passed bills barring or limiting utilities from charging customers for membership dues in trade associations, lobbying expenses, and other political activities.
“Oregon gas customers are paying more each month to foot the bill for utility lobbying and political spending that aims to protect shareholder profits at the expense of our pocket books, our climate, and our health. Avista’s expensive anti-climate litigation is diametrically opposed to their customers’ interest, and therefore cannot be justified under state law,” said Dylan Plummer, Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Building Electrification Campaign.
Avista’s proposed 8% rate hike comes on the heels of a 18% rate increase last year. Oregon regulators will decide on the proposed spending by December 20, 2023.