N.Y. weighs East Coast’s first statewide building gas ban

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E • Posted: Wednesday, January 11, 2023

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, is seen delivering her address during her inauguration ceremony, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023, in Albany, N.Y.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D). AP Photo/Hans Pennink

New York’s Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul called yesterday for the nation’s most aggressive ban on fossil fuels in new buildings, setting the stage for a possible showdown with the gas industry and state lawmakers.

In her State of the State speech, Hochul urged the state Legislature to phase out the sale of fossil fuel heating equipment in existing residential buildings beginning in 2030 and in 2035 in commercial ones. The governor also proposed requiring new residential and commercial buildings to be all-electric by 2025 and 2030, respectively.

“We are taking these steps now because climate change remains the greatest threat to our planet, and to our children and grandchildren,” said Hochul in her speech. The state’s landmark 2019 climate law, known as the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, laid out strict deadlines for cutting emissions, she noted. “And now, we are executing on that plan.”

Hochul’s proposals face an uncertain path ahead. Last year, the governor came out for the first time in support of a gas ban for new construction that would have gone into effect in 2027 (Energywire, Jan. 6, 2022). The idea found support in the state Senate, but was repeatedly blocked by the Democratic speaker of the state Assembly, Carl Heastie.

Spokespeople for Heastie had initially insisted that the speaker’s opposition was due to how the gas ban was being proposed — in the state’s annual budget — rather than through legislation (Energywire, April 18, 2022). However, a separate bill promoted heavily by environmentalists later in the year died without being brought to the floor in either legislative chamber.

Green groups have accused Heastie of being influenced by fossil fuel industry and building developers — something Heastie’s spokespeople have dismissed in public statements as “a bunch of conspiracy theories” and “beyond silly.”

When asked for comment Tuesday, Heastie’s office sent audio of the speaker’s comments to reporters about the broad “energy policies” outlined by Hochul in her speech.

“The faster we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels, the better we are for it,” said Heastie in his comments, without addressing the specifics of the gas ban.  

Some natural gas advocates have criticized bans. Michelle Hook, executive director of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, predicted they would “send energy bills through the roof” and urge state lawmakers to “start paying attention to the majority of New Yorkers who want to keep their lights on and heat working through our cold winters” (Energywire, June 15, 2022).

Yesterday, however, an umbrella coalition of local and national green groups known as the #GasFreeNY campaign, described gas bans in new construction “a critically necessary step” and a “top priority” for climate policy this year. They called on Heastie and the state Assembly to pass a law.

“Each new building hooked to gas locks more families into overpaying to heat their homes, while padding the fossil fuel industry’s profit, torching our state, and endangering New Yorkers,” wrote the #GasFreeNY campaign in a statement. The coalition includes national environmental organizations like Earthjustice, Food & Water Watch and Rewiring America, in addition to several state-level groups.

Hochul’s latest gas-ban proposals would be even more stringent than what failed to become law last year. Her all-electric mandate for new buildings would start phasing in sooner this time — in 2025 rather than 2027. Hochul’s call for ending the sale of fossil fuel boilers and water heaters, which would also apply to the state’s existing buildings, was not included in her previous proposals.

The timelines in Hochul’s plan are aligned with what New York’s Climate Action Council — a task force created to plan out how the state will implement its climate goals — called for in a December blueprint. Hochul has backed another key idea from that blueprint: the adoption of a cap-and-invest framework that would span across sectors like transportation, heavy industry and gas distribution (Climatewire, Dec. 20, 2022).  

Across the country, policymakers in several Democrat-controlled cities and states have enacted strict restrictions on fossil fuels in the past year.

Last year, for instance, the state of Washington passed the first statewide mandates for electric building heat. Starting this year, most new construction in the state will have to use electricity as their primary source, with fossil fuel boilers allowed as backup heat (Energywire, Nov. 9, 2022).

Also in 2022, California’s air regulators approved a first-in-the-nation plan to end the sale of fossil fuel appliances. Those rules are still being drafted by the state (Climatewire, Sept. 23, 2022).

In Massachusetts, 10 cities and towns have filed to participate in a demonstration program created by a climate law last year. Under the program’s terms, the cities can ban gas in new construction while reporting data to the state (Energywire, Jan. 9).

There and in Maryland, where Democrats have captured the governor’s seats and maintain a majority in the legislatures, environmentalists have said they plan to press lawmakers to pass statewide bans. Already, dozens of cities in liberal jurisdictions have done so, including cities like Los Angeles and New York.

Manchin’s ‘recipe for disaster’

Hochul’s speech comes amid an escalating dispute over whether federal officials should place new regulations on gas stoves.

In December, a Biden-appointed commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Richard Trumka Jr., suggested that the CPSC consider banning gas stoves. The full commission has so far agreed to take the far more limited step of obtaining public input on hazards associated with the appliances (Greenwire, Jan. 10).

Emissions researchers concluded in one recent study that almost 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the U.S. could be traced to the pollutants emitted by gas stoves. Two Democrats, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, cited the study in a letter to the CPSC that urged them to regulate stoves.

But Tuesday, Trumka’s suggestion prompted indignant reaction on Twitter from Republican lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), as well as from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who said gas-stove bans were “a recipe for disaster.”

“The federal government has no business telling American families how to cook their dinner,” wrote Manchin in a Tuesday afternoon post on Twitter.

“If this is the greatest concern that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has for American consumers, I think we need to reevaluate the commission,” he added in a subsequent post.