I would never smoke in my apartment, but I’ve been polluting my house with cooking and gas heating all my adult life. A 2020 report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a sustainability research organization, found that simply baking a cake raises nitrogen dioxide levels in the home above World Health Organization guidelines. A 2013 study in International Journal of Epidemiology found that children living in homes with gas stoves were more than 40% more likely to develop asthma due to the pollution created by burning gas.

While most people focus on the environmental benefits of electrifying buildings, banning gas connections in new buildings would have significant health benefits.

To avoid catastrophic climate change, we must meet our Paris Agreement target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% compared to 2005 levels. President Biden’s signing of the Inflation Reduction Act in August brought the US closer to that goal. But further action is needed, especially at the state level.

New York State can take a national lead in ending the burning of fossil fuels in its buildings. Fossil fuels burned in buildings account for about 13% of the US greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2021, New York became the largest city in the United States to ban gas connections for new buildings. From 2023, new buildings below seven stories will not be allowed to use gas for cooking and space heating, and from 2027 this will also apply to taller buildings. The Rocky Mountain Institute estimated that this would save 2.1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2040, equivalent to the annual emissions of 450,000 cars.

The success of New York’s law led to a similar proposal in 2021 for New York State: Law on general electrical construction. In 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed a version of the bill in her January budget. However, the budget requires agreement between the governor, the Assembly and the Senate. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie objected to including the gas ban in the budget. When asked by the Bronx Times why, his communications director said, “Typically, we haven’t included policy in our budget proposal.” However, other policy changes were included in that budget, including a commitment to electrify all school buses by 2035, which Heastie did not oppose.

New York State’s gas ban failed at the same time 20 other states successfully passed preemptive legislation to prevent such bans in cities and counties. Shortly after the first gas ban of 2019 in Berkeley, California, the American Gas Association drafted precautionary legislation to be promoted by local members. Utah State Representative Stephen Handy introduced the foreclosure bill, saying, “I didn’t dream it up. I learned about it, frankly, from my local natural gas supplier, Dominion.”

Gas companies and politicians justify preemptive legislation with concerns about cost and the need to give customers choice energy supply.

This is the same tactic the tobacco lobby used against government regulation: to shift the public debate from health to freedom of choice. In New York, the Energy Citizens Facebook group asked, “Would you like Albany to choose your technology?” The Energy Citizens website describes the organization as a “diverse community of Americans,” but it was created and funded by the American Petroleum Institute to oppose oil and gas regulation.

The choice argument makes no sense when it comes to connecting gas to homes. Most people don’t get to choose the energy source for heating and cooking – that choice was made when their house was built. According to the US Energy Information Administration, more than 25% of US households already use electricity as their sole energy source. When most of us move into a new home, we simply live with the appliances already installed. And in areas that successfully ban gas, the ban will only apply to new construction. People who really care about gas can still choose where they built before the gas ban went into effect.

The cost concern is understandable, but the policies in the Inflation Reduction Act completely changed the economy. Before the law, the nonprofit American Council for Energy Efficiency estimated that electric heat pumps are cheaper than gas heating systems over the life of the equipment, but the initial cost can be $2,800 to $9,000 higher. The Inflation Reduction Act provides tax credits (up to $2,000) and rebates (up to $14,000 per household) for heat pumps, with additional funding for energy efficiency and other forms of building electrification.

Given the lobbyists’ coordinated opposition to gas bans, the potential to reduce carbon emissions, and the need to create healthier homes for our families, it is critical that New York City passes the All-Electric Building Act in 2023. You can help make this happen by calling your governor and state senator and assembly member to show your support. As Governor Hachul wrote in her State of the State address, we can send “an unmistakable signal to the New York market, the nation and the world that the future of buildings must be decarbonized.”

The natural gas ban is a new front in efforts to curb emissions

Courtesy of State of the Planet

Citation: Opinion: Why We Need to Ban Gas in New York State Buildings (2022, October 3) Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-opinion-gas-york-state .html

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