Over the past three years, dozens of cities across the country have banned natural gas hookups in newly constructed buildings as part of a growing campaign to reduce carbon emissions from homes. The movement scored a major victory last month, when New York City’s outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a ban on gas hookups in new buildings.
Though new laws apply to the entire home, the policy debate often focuses on one room in particular: the kitchen. Gas stoves account for a relatively small share of the emissions released by a typical household, but they’ve become a proxy for a larger fight over how far efforts to curb at-home natural gas consumption in the name of fighting climate change should go.
Natural gas consumption accounts for 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions from residential and commercial buildings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One study estimated that New York’s ban on its own would create an emissions reduction comparable to taking 450,000 cars off the road. But the movement has met significant pushback. About 35 percent of U.S. homes use gas for cooking, and surveys show that many people are resistant to switching to an electric or induction range. The gas industry has also launched a massive lobbying campaign that has helped convince 19 Republican-led states to preemptively bar local governments from imposing bans on natural gas.
Beyond the climate implications of natural gas in general, there is also a movement to phase out gas stoves because of the harmful pollutants they release inside the home. Cooking on a gas stove releases nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, chemicals that have been connected with negative health conditions like asthma, with particular risk to children. One study found that gas stoves can create levels of nitrogen dioxide indoors exceeding the legal limits for outdoor air.
Why there’s debate
The debate over gas stoves is really a two-part conversation, with one element focusing on the environmental harms of at-home natural gas consumption in general, and the other specifically on the indoor pollution that gas cooktops create.
Climate change activists see gas bans as a powerful way to reduce the greenhouse gases created by buildings, which account for about 13 percent of total U.S. emissions. They argue that — unlike burgeoning technologies like a green power grid and electric vehicles — clean alternatives to gas heaters, appliances and stoves are readily available to most consumers. Critics of the bans, on the other hand, are skeptical of how much they’ll really reduce emissions, worry about increasing costs for homeowners and argue that market-based solutions will be most effective at promoting a transition to electrified homes.
When it comes to health, advocates say gas stoves are simply too toxic to be installed in new homes. They call for governments to create financial incentives to help homeowners switch to electric or induction stoves, an expense they argue will ultimately save money relative to the cost of potential health problems.
The gas industry makes the case that with proper ventilation, gas stoves can be safe. Conservatives also take issue with the idea of the government limiting individual choice. Others argue that focusing on gas stoves, a product many people have an intense loyalty to, will only increase resistance to electrification as a whole.
The list of cities to ban gas hookups in new construction appears primed to grow in the coming years, and opposition is likely to ramp up in response. So far, no statewide bans have been put in place. California has come the closest. Starting next year, all homes built in the state may be required to be wired so they’re “electric ready” even if they have gas appliances installed. In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed a statewide ban as part of a multipronged initiative to combat climate change.
h/t Coastie Patriot