Who’s Got Gas? Some Cities Ban It, While States Ban the Bans

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

Natural gas is the new front on the climate wars.  Many cities have passed bans on new buildings powered by natural gas — from Berkley and San Jose in California to Seattle, Washington (paywall). But many Republican-led states in the South and Midwest have been trying to preempt local governments from banning natural gas. At least ten states have passed laws banning gas prohibitions, alongside Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Louisiana, which passed such bills last year.  Powerful business interests support these bills: petroleum producers, utilities, home builders, manufacturers, restaurant associations, and even the AARP in Indiana and Kansas. 

Why this Matters:  Gas used to be seen as the clean fuel of the future – no more.  There has been much progress made in limiting the use of natural gas in homes.  Banning the bans is a familiar tactic — it has been used by the tobacco industry and the National Rifle Association. Jennifer Pomeranz, of NYU’s School of Global Public Health and lead author of a study on so-called “preemption” bills, told E&E News that preemption is often used to prevent environmental or public health policies. Of course, there is more than one way to ban gas.  It will be interesting to see if consumers will be the ultimate deciders in the states that prohibit banning gas.  

“Banning the Ban”

Indiana state Rep. Jim Pressel, a Republican sponsor of gas ban preemption legislation, during a state House Utilities, Energy and Telecommunications Committee meeting last month, said: ”My stance is: Let’s get in front of it. I like to refer to it as ‘ban the ban.'”  There are some legitimate reasons to be tentative in banning gas in new homes and businesses. For example, Los Angeles has been hesitant to enact a gas ban, according to a report released today in the LA Times. Officials in Garcetti’s office say that they are trying to reduce emissions in new and existing buildings without slashing job opportunities for gas utility workers. They also want to make sure that low-income families and communities of color have low energy bills, while also recognizing that banning natural gas will reduce indoor air pollution. 

That said, many of these bills preempting gas bans are political tools to separate deep-red states from more liberal cities. Those pushing to keep gas in new buildings argue that they’re preventing the Green New Deal from infringing on citizen’s personal choices. They suggest that consumers should be able to choose what type of energy they use in their homes, and that gas bans would limit these choices, while also raising the price of energy.

Both of these positions are flawed: Mike Henchen, a principal at the Boulder, Colo.-based Rocky Mountain Institute told E&E news that the notion that even now, homebuyers don’t get to “choose their heating fuel in the same way they choose a paint color.” Moreover, the Rocky Mountain Institute issued a report last year showing that relying on electricity for heating buildings is both cleaner than gas and cheaper, regardless of geography.  Though many midwestern and southern cities have enacted preemption bills, some have fought them off. Lawrence, Kansas, had been targeted with a preemption bill, but city officials have rejected it, in keeping with its goal to transition the city to 100% clean energy. Hopefully, other cities can defend themselves against such gas ban preemption laws.

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