As members of Congress debate the very science behind “climate change,” there are a slew of cities — and now one state — taking matters into their own hands and enacting natural gas bans for new construction buildings.
Last December, New York City passed legislation banning the use of natural gas in most new construction. The law will take effect in December 2023 for buildings less than seven stories, and in 2027 for taller buildings. Hospitals, commercial kitchens and laundromats are exempt from the ban.
More recently, just last month, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) unanimously approved a proposal that would ban natural gas heaters and furnaces in the state by 2030, making California the first state to enact such a measure. The commitment is part of a broader range of environmental efforts passed by the board last month to meet the federal 70 parts-per-billion, 8-hour ozone standard over the next 15 years.
Many plumbing and HVAC industry experts oppose the idea to ban natural gas entirely. In an episode of the “PHCC Rocks” podcast earlier this year, current PHCC President Joel Long interviewed Joe Cornetta, past president of PHCC Long Island, and Todd Allred, PHCC Washington director of industry about national gas bans in New York and Seattle.
“It’s not that we’re against it,” Cornetta said of the bans. “Let’s state the facts — by trade and by nature, we support the environment. Everything we do goes back to the old poster where the plumber protects the health and welfare of the nation. I’ve been tearing out old, inefficient, dirty boilers since I was 12 years old. And every time I tear one of those old, filthy inefficient boilers out, we put in a clean, efficient boiler to replace it. So we’re not polluting the Earth to that extent. Natural gas is considered a clean and efficient fuel. The biggest opposition we have to it is consumer choice. Now, you lose every opportunity to choose how you’re going to heat your home, cook your food, dry your clothes, heat your pool — it’s all gone, there’s no choice left. That’s our biggest concern – that and the fact we’re being demonized as anti-environment.”
Allred went a little bit further into why these bans are problematic.
“It doesn’t make sense to remove an energy source when we have this world chaos going on,” he explained. “We don’t know where we’re going right now, and these people want to remove an energy source for decarbonization and climate change. I get it, we all want decarbonize, we all care about our environment. None of us want to drink bad water; none of us want to breathe bad air. We get all that. But there’s a process to go through that’s probably better — one that’s slower and gives people the choice. We don’t have to bite off a chunk that ends up hurting us.
“And here’s another interesting thing,” Allred added. “In the state of Washington, our carbon emissions from natural gas-burning appliances are less than 1% of the total carbon emissions from our state. But yet, they’re going to add $20,000 to the cost of building a home to provide raceways for electricity to get to the roof for solar and all that kind of stuff. We’re already in a housing crunch over here — there is not enough housing, there’s a ton of homeless people — you’ve seen it all on the news how bad Seattle is. I have guys who make six figures and can’t purchase a house because the cost is too high.”
According to an August 2021 study from the Institute for Energy Research, restrictions on natural gas use in new buildings will also result in higher energy bills for consumers in states with high electricity prices — i.e. California. These higher energy bills are of particular concern because gas bans in states like California are exacerbating the poverty problem.
The Institute for Energy Research report also noted that natural gas bans increase energy risks on the electric grid, especially in states like California, where the electric grid is already known to be unreliable with rolling blackouts during heat waves and power cutoffs to prevent fires.
“It’s important to note that as the reliability of the grid becomes a greater concern, natural gas hookups allow people to diversify their access to energy as many gas appliances can be used when electricity is unavailable,” the report noted.
Long has warned PHCC members not to think these bans won’t impact their hometowns — they’re happening in more and more states, and at an increasing rate. So what can contractors do about it? The answer is get involved.
Reach out to your industry associations — PHCC, MCAA, ACCA, ASA, PMI and others. Participate in legislative affairs committees and events. Write to your local and state officials. Explain the burden these bans place on consumers and contracting businesses. Sometimes, it’s all a matter of sharing your perspective.