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Military vet group opposing fossil fuel expansion, Southwest Gas

VetsFWD endorses clean energy policies and decentralization of the energy grid, wiith one of its members is a retired Chief Sustainability Officer for the Pentagon.

ARIZONA, USA — After Southwest Gas Holdings announced its highest quarterly net income ever and its “largest revenue increase in company history” last month, Scott Bourque was quick to recall two votes that occurred at the Arizona Corporation Commission.

“Of course Southwest Gas had record earnings. They just had two of the biggest rate increases in history," Bourque said. "They got those because they had a Corporation Commission that was willing to stick it to the ratepayer to benefit the shareholders of Southwest Gas."

In January, the Republican commissioners voted to approve a substantial 9.4% revenue hike for Southwest Gas, amounting to an average monthly increase of $3 according to the utility. The Commission, with a different makeup in 2021, also handed the utility a 7.1% revenue increase.

Bourque, a Navy veteran, belongs to VetsFWD, a nonprofit that lobbies on behalf of military veterans for fair utility rates, voting access and other issues. It is funded by a mix of public and private donors.

“A lot of veterans have disabilities severe enough they cannot hold full-time jobs,” Bourque said. “Even a modest increase in utility rates really throw their budgets out of whack.”

“Military veterans and the environment go hand-in-hand.” Hear more from Vets Forward Spokesperson Scott Bourque:

Support for the rate increase included a labor union and a group representing the manufacturing industry.

“Arizona’s economy relies on a diverse energy portfolio including natural gas to prosper,” said Grace Applebee of the Arizona Manufacturers Council.

Critics want a construction allowances that aid expansion of gas lines to end. They also allege the process for approving gas infrastructure plans is not thorough and should include a planning process with stakeholders.

“Southwest Gas goes through a prudency determination and is not required to participate in a more rigorous process to prove their case,” said Caryn Potter of Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP). “Commissioners really didn’t have an opportunity to discuss in a meaningful way whether these investments should be made on their behalf.”

Kathy Mazzeo of Southwest Gas told the Commission the new rate structure was “on balance is in the public interest and deserving of approval.” It included the expansion of a discount program for low-income customers.

For Bourque’s VetsFWD, resistance to fossil fuel expansion has national security implications as well.

VetsFWD endorses clean energy policies and decentralization of the energy grid. One of its members is a retired Chief Sustainability Officer for the Pentagon, Bourque said.

“If we lose power on a 115 degree day either by an act of terror or an infrastructure failure, thousands or hundreds of thousands could be injured, seriously ill, or die. So it is a national security threat,” Bourque said. “Clean energy storage, home batteries, that is the wave of the future.”

Recent decisions at the Arizona Corporation Commission have slowed down or halted policies that would spur decentralized renewable energy sources. VetsFWD views the transition to decentralized energy as a national security tool.

“A lot of us went to war and realized after we came home that we went to war for oil,” Bourque said.  “A lot of veterans also come home with asthma, exposure to burn pits, exposure to diesel fumes, all factors related to the environment.”

“Military veterans and the environment go hand-in-hand, I just don’t think a lot of veterans realize it.”

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