New York set to pass first U.S. law banning gas in new construction

New York is on the cusp of becoming the first state in the nation to pass a law banning natural gas in most new buildings, according to a handshake agreement that Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced she and state lawmakers had reached late Thursday.

The law would effectively require that most new buildings go all-electric, jettisoning fossil-fuel-burning appliances in favor of heat pumps and induction stoves for heating and cooking. It is part of a national movement, led by climate advocates, to cut greenhouse gas emissions from homes and businesses by ridding buildings of natural gas, heating oil and propane.

The deal follows weeks of negotiations over a slew of nonfiscal measures included in the New York state budget, which was delayed over disagreements between the governor and the Democrat-led legislature over bail and housing policy. Though its exact terms have not been made public, environmental advocates said the gas ban would take effect in 2026 for most new buildings under seven stories and in 2029 for taller buildings — the timeline the governor had sought.

While some states have used their building codes to restrict natural gas hookups, New York would be the first to apply the ban in state law. Washington was the first to use its building code to mandate all-electric space heating and cooling in new buildings — a step that effectively requires developers to install electric heat pumps. California has also used its building code to encourage electrification.

Gas ban supporters said the state’s agreement is modeled on a law New York City passed two years ago, when it became the largest U.S. city to prohibit gas heat and stoves in new buildings. Dozens of others cities have enacted variations of this measure around the country, beginning on the West Coast in Berkeley, Calif., and spreading to larger cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C.

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In New York, supporters hope the move could be a bellwether moment for the electrification movement, given the state’s size and its influence on real estate trends nationally.

Across the nation, the natural gas industry and environmental activists have battled over the effectiveness of electric heat pumps, health concerns related to gas stoves and local ordinances banning new gas hookups.

The New York law is likely to face its own legal challenges. Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit struck down the city of Berkeley’s first-in-the-nation gas ban, dealing a potential setback to that California city and 25 others with similar ordinances.

Republicans in New York’s state Senate cited that decision as part of their argument that Democrats should abandon their efforts. But the court’s ruling does not cover New York and its national impact is unclear, given its narrow scope and the likelihood of an appeal to the full panel of judges.

Alex Beauchamp, Northeast region director at Food & Water Watch, a climate advocacy group, said that while he was disappointed to have to wait three years for New York’s ban to take effect, the agreement was still “a huge deal.”

The deal is a “testament to the lasting power of the state’s grassroots environmental movement,” Beauchamp said in a statement. “We now must ensure that the final deal contain no loopholes or poison pills that could allow buildings to continue burning fossil fuels.”

In a statement Thursday night, a coalition of environmental and social justice groups supporting the legislation said they remained concerned that the final deal could include a provision backed by the oil and gas industry, which would give local governments the ability to effectively veto the policy.

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Though the ban would affect new construction statewide, it will not reduce emissions from the state’s existing building stock. New Yorkers who currently warm their homes with gas-burning boilers and furnaces and cook their meals on gas stoves will not be affected.

The agreement still requires the state legislature’s formal approval, which is likely to occur next week. Its passage is all but assured.

Although a similar measure faced stiff resistance last year from the Assembly’s Democratic leadership, this time around both the Assembly and Senate endorsed plans to prohibit fossil fuel appliances in most new construction, requiring a final policy to be hammered out by Albany’s “three-men-in-a-room” — the governor and the leaders of both chambers.

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