New York passes nation’s first law to ban gas stoves and fossil fuels

New York has become the first state in the nation to pass a law banning natural gas and other fossil fuels in most new buildings, a move that could help reshape how Americans heat and cook in their homes in the coming decades.

Late Tuesday, the New York legislature approved a $229 billion state budget that will prohibit natural gas hookups and other fossil fuels in most new homes and other construction, a major victory for climate activists. The move, which will likely face a court challenge from the fossil fuel industry, will serve as a test of states’ power to ban fossil fuels outright, rather than simply encouraging developers to build low-carbon buildings.

The law effectively requires all-electric heating and cooking in new buildings shorter than seven stories by 2026, and in 2029 for taller buildings. And although it allows exemptions for manufacturing facilities, restaurants, hospitals and even carwashes, the measure does not do what some climate activists had feared: give cities and counties license to override the ban.

Dozens of cities and counties have adopted bans on gas hookups in new buildings, part of a national movement to cut emissions from homes and businesses that account for about 11 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution and 30 percent of New York state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As the restrictions spread across the country, they become a new front in the culture wars. Earlier this year, when a federal official suggested, and then quickly retracted, the idea that the national government might ban gas stoves, debate over the future of gas flared.

But Democrats, who control the New York Senate and Assembly, decided to press ahead, despite the partisan warfare. And, in the end, it was not negotiations over gas stoves that stirred controversy but a drawn-out fight over bail reform and housing policy that delayed approval of the budget by a month.

See also  Citing racial disparities and rising gas rates, Illinois groups call for building electrification

The law’s passage, and the approval of a measure that would require the state to build renewable energy when the private sector falls short, have fueled supporters’ hopes for New York to become a national model.

“I hear from local government and state folks frequently that they’re thinking of this sort of policy, and so I’m certain, as other policymakers look to a state that’s found a politically and technically feasible way to go about electrification, that others will be paying attention,” said Amy Turner, a senior fellow at Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

In Massachusetts, a law adopted last year has allowed 10 cities and towns to participate in a pilot program banning gas-burning stoves and furnaces from new construction. Environmentalists are eager to see the state go further, using a new building code written to discourage the use of fossil fuels. Advocates are also eyeing Chicago, where the heavily blue city recently elected a liberal mayor.

New York’s new law “is an indication that this policy is definitely building momentum and becoming more mainstream, in particular within the Democratic Party,” said Abe Scarr, director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, a consumer group that’s part of a coalition trying to build support for a similar ban in Chicago.

The city will host the Democratic Party’s 2024 presidential nominating convention and gas ban advocates are hoping the city council will pass a new ordinance before then.

“Part of the case we’ll be making is if we want to show off Chicago and how it’s a leader in many policy areas, but including climate and affordable utilities, this would be an important step for the [mayor-elect Brandon] Johnson administration to take,” Scarr said.

See also  Researchers find 26 Australian species recovered from the brink of extinction

But the gas industry and its Republican supporters have raised doubts about whether New York’s gas ban can survive legal challenges. Some climate advocates worry that a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that struck down the California city of Berkeley’s first-in-the-nation gas ban could have a chilling effect on other cities and counties.

A fight brewing in Oregon could decide how we heat our homes and cook

Although the court’s decision is not legally binding in most of the United States, hesitation to adopt local gas bans could ripple outward, said Matt Vespa, a senior attorney with the nonprofit organization Earthjustice who noted that restrictions on gas use in buildings typically begin at the local level, then go statewide.

In California and Washington state, major cities including San Francisco and Seattle banned gas hookups before the states enacted measures encouraging electrification through their building codes.

There are other routes to all-electric buildings besides the one Berkeley used, Vespa said, but “if you take away the local piece, that does chill upward momentum, and people have to recalibrate.”

Opponents derided the New York bill’s passage as governmental overreach. Republican Robert Ortt, the minority leader of the New York Senate, issued a statement criticizing the law as a “first-in-the-nation, unconstitutional ban” that “will drive up utility bills and increase housing costs.”

Michael Fazio, executive vice president of the New York State Builders Association said the new law would lead to construction delays and uncertainty for developers, especially those wondering if their current projects will be essentially grandfathered in, or need to be changed to comply with the 2026 deadline.

See also  Md. taking tentative steps toward clean construction rules: 'How we buy things matters'

“We are concerned that the gas ban will hinder new housing affordability and make New York less competitive with its neighboring states that have been outpacing New York in new home construction over the last several years,” Fazio said in an email.

New York’s law does not affect existing buildings, and it specifically exempts renovations. But, over time, it could chip away at the gas industry’s dominance in the state, where 3 in 5 households rely on natural gas for heating, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Only about 1 in 7 households heat with electricity.

The ban also extends to heating oil and propane, raising questions about the future of these fuels in New York state’s more rural communities.

Critics of the law have argued that it limits consumer choice and will increase utility bills by shifting more households to electricity, which is more expensive than gas in much of the state. Supporters counter that because the law affects only new construction, the transition will happen gradually and in tandem with the state’s plans to shift more of its electricity production to greener, and cheaper, sources.

Today, gas fuels 46 percent of New York’s electricity generation, but a landmark climate law passed in 2019 calls for a transition to renewable, emissions-free sources such as solar, wind and hydro power. It requires the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Washington Post food reporter Becky Krystal explains how cooking on an induction stove differs from gas and electric stoves. (Video: Jackson Barton, Allie Caren/The Washington Post)


Next Post

Popular Post