In 2019, the city of Berkeley banned natural gas infrastructure in most new building projects—a ban that would effectively ban natural gas appliances. The California Restaurant Association (CRA) sued the city, contending the ordinance is preempted by federal law, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. The three judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with the restaurant group, saying a ban on natural gas piping is essentially an unlawful backdoor ban on gas appliances such as stoves. “Berkeley can’t bypass preemption by banning natural gas piping within buildings rather than banning natural gas products themselves,” the panel wrote. “This ordinance, as well as the solution it seeks, is an overreaching measure beyond the scope of any city,” according to Jot Condie, CEO and President of the CRA. “Cities and states cannot ignore federal law in an effort to constrain consumer choice, and it is encouraging that the Ninth Circuit upheld this standard.” Lawyers representing the city of Berkeley are assessing whether to appeal.
Berkeley is not alone in banning some form of natural gas. About 100 cities have enacted restrictions on fossil fuel use in buildings, following Berkley’s lead. In California, 25 cities have followed Berkeley’s gas ban. This is part of a campaign spearheaded by the Rocky Mountain Institute, which has also been working with an agency in China.
Because the Ninth Circuit court’s decision was specific to Berkeley’s municipal code, some believe that the decision will not affect the national crusade over phasing out natural gas in buildings. They claim that it would not affect many natural gas bans in place even in cities within the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction. However, according to Sarah Jorgenson, a managing partner at the law firm representing the CRA, the decision “sets an important precedent for future cases, especially with other cities and states considering restrictions on natural gas, and it prevents a patchwork of disparate regulations and protects consumer choice.”
Some state officials and legislators are pursuing similar measures on natural gas bans. In New York, the Governor and the Democratic-controlled Legislature may soon pass the first law banning natural gas in most new buildings. In Washington State, building officials have approved statewide codes that require electric heat pumps to serve as the main source of heat in many new developments. On the other hand, 20 U.S. states have passed laws that prohibited localities from restricting natural gas or associated infrastructure in buildings, arguing that consumers should be given choices about the kinds of energy that best meets their needs.
At the national level, Richard Trumka Jr., a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which regulates household items, tried to ban gas stoves. He withdrew his proposal to regulate them last fall after it failed to gain support from his four fellow commissioners. Instead, the commission voted to gather “public input on hazards associated with gas stoves.” Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric disavowed any ban saying: “I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so.” Trumka defended the ban and said it is justified because gas stoves increase respiratory problems such as asthma among children, which is a myth promoted by environmentalists whose real agenda is to ban natural gas. The American Gas Association notes that neither the CSPC nor EPA has cited gas stoves as a significant contributor to adverse air quality or as a health hazard.
The CPSC fiasco was followed by the Energy Department proposing new regulations on gas stoves that would disqualify about half of the gas stove models sold in the United States, unless modifications were performed. The reality, however, may be worse because one estimate suggests that 95 percent of the market would not meet the proposed standards. DOE estimated that manufacturers would incur conversion costs of $183.4 million to comply with the standards, raising the upfront cost of stove products by $32.5 million per year, but saving $100.8 million annually in operating costs. The agency estimates that the efficiency standards will pay for themselves in an average of 1.5 to five years, which compares to the average lifespan of a gas range of about 15 to 20 years. The proposed standards would go into effect in 2027. Since the Department of Energy has greater authority than the CPSC, this proposed regulation is a more serious threat to the use of gas stoves and may represent a “backdoor approach” to American kitchens that the Biden Administration’s war on gas stoves may prefer.
Gas stoves are used in about 35 percent of households nationwide, or about 40 million homes. The household figure is closer to 70 percent in some states, such as California and New Jersey. Other states where many residents use gas stoves include Nevada, Illinois and New York.
The Ninth Circuit Court ruled against the city of Berkeley regarding its ban on natural gas infrastructure, and in favor of the California Restaurant Association. Hopefully for consumers, that ruling will set a precedent for future law suits as additional cities have followed Berkeley’s example and placed restrictions on fossil fuel use, essentially taking away choice from Americans. While a few states are also following through with proposed restrictions, the Biden administration, through its Energy department, has proposed standards that would remove at least half of the natural gas stove models in use today. Biden’s authoritarian government continues with its move to banish fossil fuels and turning the U.S. economy toward electrification generated by unreliable renewable energy. Eliminating diversity of supply removes competition, increases prices and endangers energy and national security. And now even the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agrees that it is unlawful.