The gas lobby has lobbied several MEPs to water down the new EU energy efficiency legislation and protect its interests. In addition to the meetings registered with politicians in the transparency portal, the industry held meetings and conversations without accreditation, as revealed by several leaked emails released by the environmental platform Better Without Boilers, which brings together several organizations seeking the elimination of fossil fuels from the old continent.
Liquid Gas Europe, the European association that brings together distributors and manufacturers of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) boilers and equipment, has not met with MEPs since April 2020. However, Better Without Boilers publications reveal that contacts have been taken outside the European environment, in undeclared lower level meetings.
The lobby has been operating through a platform called Rural Futures, with which it has been trying to establish a dichotomy between the energy transition of cities and that of rural environments. It was thus argued that the elimination of boilers in Europe's agricultural locations would have a high economic impact and sought to keep gas within the subsidy system.
Although Rural Futures is a project of Liquid Gas Europe, its activities are not recorded in Brussels within lobbying groups and neither are its meetings with European officials. The leak reveals that the industry would have also operated by organizing events and talks to which it invited some European politicians. Two key names appear here: Sean Kelly, an Irish MEP from the European People's Party who was rapporteur in the negotiations on the Energy Efficiency Directive, and Franc Bogovi?, a Slovenian MEP from the Christian Democratic Party. Both have participated in several meetings and have been speakers at events organized by the European gas industry and have subsequently defended some of the industry's positions in the negotiations.
Público has contacted the two MEPs by email to find out the reasons why they have participated in these events and to find out whether the connections revealed influence their positions in the negotiations on the European Energy Efficiency Directive. However, this newspaper has not received any response at the time of closing this information.
This is not the first leak that reveals how companies have pressured and conditioned the positions of MEPs during the revision process of the Energy Efficiency Directive. Last March 7 DeSmog published an investigation carried out with the support of Journalismfund.eu that revealed more maneuvers by Liquid Gas Europe to weaken the climate objectives of the new efficiency directive and maintain subsidies for gas boilers.
Sources in the European Parliament explain that unregistered contacts between politicians and business groups are not in breach of the rules, but they do acknowledge, as was already the case with Catargate, that more control over lobbying is needed. "This is sometimes a sieve, lobbyists enter as they wish and meet without any problem with MEPs without the need for them to bother to say and accredit who they are meeting with," they warn from Strasbourg.
The new directive, a so much for the industry?
The directive, approved this Tuesday in the European Parliament, has ended up taking up some of the requests of the gas companies. Although from 2024 natural gas boilers will no longer receive subsidies, the text has left an important loophole that does not satisfy environmental groups and consumer associations.
So much so that "hybrid" boilers will be allowed to continue to enjoy subsidies and aid, which was one of the lobby's main requests, since this type of installation is one that can operate with a mixture of gas with alternative fuels, such as hydrogen or biogas, or with energy produced from renewable sources.
Paz Serra, director of Projects and Campaign of the Confederation of Consumers and Users (CECU), points out that the directive has made significant progress in ensuring that new buildings do not have boilers, but notes as negative that amendments have been introduced to maintain subsidies for heating based on biofuels and hydrogen. "In the 1990s, the gas industry managed to influence the implementation of natural gas infrastructures in all cities and make us captive to gas. That has made us vulnerable, made us dependent on the industry and we have been paying the tolls for all these years. Now history is repeating itself and the same mistake, a system is being maintained that focuses everything on infrastructures instead of taking advantage of the sovereignty and independence that renewable energies have", comments the expert, who is in favor of encouraging the deployment of heat pumps instead of hybrid boilers.
Sources familiar with the negotiations explain that consensus on this directive has been very complicated and speak of significant differences within almost all parties. However, the sources say, they have managed to eliminate some points that clearly obeyed the interests of the gas industry, such as the attempt to exclude single-family homes from the directive. "That could have left entire rural neighborhoods and villages out of the energy transition obligations," they comment.