Civil Rights Leaders Double Down on Natural Gas

Whether it’s used for electricity generation or to heat homes and cook meals, natural gas is providing tremendous savings for American consumers, especially low-income households – a fact that some of the country’s top civil rights leaders recently emphasized.

The COVID-19 global pandemic is causing more financial uncertainty and insecurity for U.S. households. This has prompted civil rights leaders to double down on their support of natural gas as an important and necessary fuel to decrease energy costs and improve quality of life for low-income communities. These leaders stand in contrast to politicians and environmental activists seeking to ban fracking and limit natural gas hookups, despite the negative financial and environmental consequences of these extreme measures.

As National Urban League President Marc Morial explained in a recent interview with Axios:

“[G]enerally speaking, people are debating these issues in some instances without consultation with the leaders of the African American communities and neighborhoods affected by these issues… [natural gas is] a fuel that we need to have access to because the transition to alternatives is a long-range transition.”

Disproportionate Costs for Energy

On average, energy costs account for roughly 2.5 percent of U.S. household incomes, according to Department of Energy data. But as DOE explains, the “energy burden” is often much higher for low-income families, as is demonstrated in the following example using the average U.S. salary and average percent of income that goes toward energy costs:

In fact, a 2018 Energy Information Administration report found that nearly one-third of U.S. households acknowledged having difficulty paying energy bills, with 25 million Americans reporting that they had to choose between energy and food or medicine. That is why having access to not only reliable, but affordable energy like natural gas is so important.That burden increases as income decreases and can vary by region. In Ohio, for instance, the Consumer Energy Alliance found that 1.7 million Ohioans living below the poverty line spend approximately one-fourth of their income on energy.

Case Study: Pembroke Township, Illinois

Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson is working with local officials and Nicor Gas to bring a natural gas line to Pembroke Township – one of the most impoverished suburbs of Chicago. The community has a median income of $16,000 per year and primarily relies on propane heat and woodburning stoves to heat their homes during the winter.

As Mayor Mark Hodge explained in a CBS interview, natural gas promises to bring many benefits to his neighbors.

“This community has been overlooked for the past 48 years for natural gas, so we’re in need of industry and we’re in need of jobs, and our school is in need of natural gas.”

Why natural gas? Households that use natural gas saved more than $4,000 over a 10-year period, according to a recent study by Shale Crescent USA and the Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program. Low income households, which spend a disproportionate amount on energy, realized savings equal to 2.7 percent of their annual income.

A new natural gas line in Pembroke would not only ensure more affordable and reliable energy for members of the community, but could save lives during harsh Chicago winters as well. According to a 2019 National Bureau of Economic Research paper, lower energy costs made possible by the proliferation of natural gas help prevent thousands of deaths every winter:

“Lower heating prices reduce mortality in winter months. The estimated effect size implies that the drop in natural gas prices in the late 2000s, induced largely by the boom in shale gas production, averted 11,000 winter deaths per year in the U.S. We also find that the effect does not just represent short-run hastening of mortality.”

Access to natural gas also has a significant impact on health outcomes. A 2016 UNICEF report revealed that households using wood for cooking and heat are “more than twice as likely to have suffered from [acute lower respiratory infections] than children from households using liquefied petroleum gas , natural gas or electricity.”


Minority and low-income communities, which are disproportionately affected by high energy costs, are advocating for increased access to natural gas. This important fuel source not only provides a cleaner, safer alternative to higher-emitting energy sources, but can help households save up to 30 percent on utility bills.

In contrast, nationwide efforts to ban fracking would have a devastating effect on these communities. A recent American Petroleum Institute report estimates that banning production of this key energy source would result in the loss of 7.5 million jobs, cost American families an average of $5,040 annually, and increase energy prices by an average of $618 by 2030.

As policymakers continue to look for solutions to combat global climate change, natural gas remains a key component of any just transition.  As Rev. Al Sharpton explained to Axios:

“I think people are concerned about the affordability and they are concerned about being left in the cold… I don’t think we ought to make [natural gas] the end-all, be-all solution, but in the interim, people in communities of color should not pay the brunt of suffering through cold winters.”

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