Year in Review: Natural Gas Bans

Natural gas bans have been a hot-button issue through 2023 year since the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) stated that it was considering banning natural gas stoves in January. While the Biden administration and agency officials have publicly backtracked on their desire to ban gas stoves, their actions and regulations over the year show their continued support to electrify everything.

Experts are calling the Department of Energy’s recently published $530 million funding opportunity to electrify homes, a back door ban on natural gas. The administration’s continued use of policies to support the electrification of homes through incentives was telegraphed by Energy Secretary Granholm in January, just weeks after the administration tried to tell the public it isn’t interested in banning stoves.

Theme of the Year: De Facto Natural Gas Bans

The Biden administration has used its regulatory powers to encourage all-electric new construction pathways throughout the year:

  1. Gas Stoves

In January 2023, the DOE proposed regulations to establish energy performance standards for cooking appliances that would remove 50-96 percent of natural gas stoves from the market. The American Gas Association notes that the proposed rule would save customers a scant $1.51 per year, accounting for a mere $21.89 over a product’s 14.5-year lifespan.

Energy In Depth has explained that despite claims by DOE that “nearly half of the total gas-cooking top market … would not be impacted by the proposed standard,” a test by the department itself proves otherwise. According to the analysis conducted with 21 stovetop units currently on the market, only one unit complied with the proposed regulations.

  1. Commercial boilers:

Following a remand of their original energy efficiency regulation for commercial boilers for failing to meet the “clear and convincing evidence” requirement to show that the standard was technically feasible and economically justified, DOE adopted a new rule that maintained the same standards.

Fortunately, in July 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia entirely vacated the DOE’s standards. According to the panel of judges, “the DOE again failed to offer a sufficient explanation in response to the comments [from petitioners] challenging a key assumption in its analysis.” The judges further explained:

“The Agency failed to provide notice and comment despite its reliance on new studies and data critical to supporting its use of random assignment to assign boilers in the life-cycle cost analysis. The DOE also failed to address challenges to its 30 Btu/h assumption in calculating burner operating hours for the lifecycle cost analysis for the second time.” (emphasis added)

  1. Natural Gas Water Heaters

In July, just weeks after the DC Circuit Court vacated the DOE’s natural gas boiler proposal, the DOE submitted a standard on natural gas water heaters that would amount to a de facto ban.

The proposed rule would require gas-fired instantaneous water heaters to achieve efficiency gains through condensing technology, ignoring the infrastructure requirement of new condensing technology and moving residents to electric alternatives when their homes can’t support the new natural gas water heater.

According to The Hill’s reporting, the DOE’s alleged cost savings calculation for the proposed standard are subject to additional criticism based on the costs to manufacturers, which are passed down to consumers:

“The department said in its proposed rule that it’s not clear whether the rule will ultimately cost or save money for manufacturers, saying its impacts could range between a loss of $207.3 million to a gain of $165.5 million through the year 2059.” (emphasis added)

Phrasing Change, But Still a Ban

The Biden administration has thrown its support behind the city of Berkley in its appeal against the Ninth Circuit’s decision that the city’s natural gas ban was superseded by the Federal Energy Policy Conservation Act (EPCA). Judges stated in their April 2023 ruling that:

“Berkeley can’t bypass preemption by banning natural gas piping within buildings rather than banning natural gas products themselves…States and localities can’t skirt the text of broad preemption provisions by doing indirectly what Congress says they can’t do directly.”

The administration’s tacit approval of electrification technologies and pathways has only empowered activists who have not been shy in admitting that they have been looking at workarounds to the legal challenges to their electrification plans.

In fact, activists have been loudly supportive of any and all measures to skirt the law with clever wordplay. After Seattle passed a building code update in December, Earthjustice Senior Attorney Jan Hasselman went so far as to admit to Grist that the building code updates don’t explicitly require builders to install electric appliances, but “actively makes gas pretty impractical”:

“[B]uilding emissions standards like the one passed in Seattle are one way for cities to dodge legal hurdles by avoiding an explicit ban on gas.

“Updating building energy codes is another viable way for cities to pursue electrification without running afoul of the 9th Circuit ruling.”

To avoid legal challenges, electrification activists began using terms like “building electrification,” “reach codes,” “building performance standards,” etc. The shift in rhetoric began in 2021, when activists had to stop calling their policies “bans” because that didn’t resonate with consumers. As Building Electrification Initiative’s Jenna Tatum told S&P Global:

“I think that the term gas ban might not work…But I think that a policy that encourages or requires all electric new construction works everywhere.”

The shift in natural gas ban framing has inspired activists across the country to skirt the legislative process to ban natural gas:

  1. New York – Over 200 environmental organizationsare trying to gather support for a more aggressive electrification policy that would be even more stringent than what failed to become law last year, using the same budgetary process that would skirt the entire democratic conference.
  2. Massachusetts – Supporters of the electrification codes are not satisfied with the 10 city pilot program and urged Governor Healey in a letter to her transition team to double down on a push to electrify buildings across the state.
  3. Washington – Under building code amendments adopted on November 27, builders would need to match the energy efficiency of heat pumps in order to install gas in new commercial and residential buildings. The codes were passed by the unelected Building Code Council, which was previously accused of passing a far-reaching gas ban building code in “an end run around the legislature.”

Flawed Research Supporting Bans

The year’s ongoing gas ban headlines started with alarming and untrue headlines warning that gas stoves cause childhood asthma. The report was authored by RMI and concluded that natural gas cooking is responsible for 12 percent of childhood asthma, a remark an author of the study author would retract shortly after.

It was flawed indoor air quality studies and salacious headlines about childhood asthma that made CPSC Commissioner Trumka publicly interested in banning gas stoves in the first place, going so far as to participate in an environmental organization’s webinar on pollution free cooking.

More studies on indoor air quality were published this year, adding to the list of flawed activist funded research that have consistently failed to provide reference points and concentration to show supposed harm, created unrealistic testing environments, and have published less than clear conclusions.

A March 2023 report published by Catalyst Environmental Solutions (CES) and commissioned by the California Restaurant Association and the California Building Industry Association, reviewed the studies and found that:

  1. Recent headlines about the dangers of gas stoves do not align with the data.
  2. Air emissions from cooking are the biggest contributor to indoor air quality impacts and can be reduced in all cooking situations with proper ventilation.
  3. The type of appliance (natural gas or electric) used to cook food indoors is not a significant determinant of indoor air quality.
  4. Almost no study has demonstrated the human health risk from the impacts of indoor air quality from cooking source.

And another study  – Gas Cooking and Respiratory Outcomes in Children: A Systematic Review – funded by the American Gas Association, found the studies often cited by anti-consumer choice activists to convince policymakers to ban natural gas were generally of low quality with high variability in terms of study region, age of children, exposure definition and outcome definition. Their analysis of 66 published peer-reviewed  epidemiology studies concluded that there is not sufficient evidence demonstrating causal relationships between cooking on gas stoves, indoor NO2, and asthma in children.

Bans Benefit Nobody

To top it all off, the public doesn’t really want to ban natural gas appliances.

A recent poll from Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communications shows that Americans want to continue cooking with gas. According to their findings, only 31 percent support going all electric and abandoning their gas stoves, furnaces, and other appliances.

The sentiment is reflected in the bipartisan pushback from Congress in response to the administration’s attempts to remove natural gas appliances.

Two bills protecting gas stoves from federal bans passed through the U.S. House of Representatives in June with bipartisan support as twenty-nine Democrats voted in favor of both Republican-sponsored pieces of legislation –  H.R.1615, the “Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act” and H.R. 1640, “Save Our Gas Stoves Act”.

Bottom Line

2023 has been a year filled with clever tactics from activists and the Biden administration to ban natural gas appliances. By focusing on regulations, standards, and building codes, they are working to sell Americans higher cost electric alternatives without taking cost or consumer choice into consideration. Inspiring their electrification vision are poorly researched indoor air quality studies that fail to stand to scrutiny.

A View Towards 2024

Consumers aren’t in favor of natural gas bans, so activists are looking to skirt legislative bodies that would give individuals a chance to voice their opinion and reject their proposed bills. 2024 will be dominated by their continued attempts to avoid the legislative process and legal challenges to their gas bans.

And while Congress has shown it is keeping an eye on the administration’s support for electrification policies and pathways, the DOE and CPSC are continuing to pursue requests for information and rulemaking on gas appliances, and supporting funding mechanisms to remove gas appliances from homes entirely.

Under the microscope next is House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan (R-SC) joint focus on the DOE’s announced awards of $169 million for nine projects to manufacture electric heat pumps.

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