State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

, ,

Why We Need to Ban Gas in New York State Buildings

I would never smoke in my apartment, but for my entire adult life I have been polluting my home by cooking and heating with gas. A 2020 report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a sustainability-focused research organization, found that just baking a cake raised household nitrogen dioxide levels above the World Health Organization’s guidelines. A 2013 study in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that children living in homes with gas stoves are over 40% more likely to have 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.

person cracking egg over electric stovetop
Photo: Pexels

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

New York State can take a nation-wide leadership role by ending the burning of fossil fuels in its buildings. Fossil fuels burned in buildings contribute around 13% of US greenhouse gas emissions.

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

The success of New York City’s law led to a similar proposal in 2021 for New York State: the All-Electric Building Act. In 2022, Governor 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 the inclusion of the gas ban in the budget. When asked by the Bronx Times why, his communications director stated: “As a general rule we didn’t include policy in our budget proposal.” However, other policy changes were included in that budget, including a commitment to electrify all school buses by 2035, to which Heastie did not object.

New York State’s gas ban failed at the same time as 20 other states successfully passed preemptive legislation to prevent cities and counties from enacting such bans. Shortly after the first gas ban in 2019 in Berkeley, California, the American Gas Association drafted preemptive legislation to be promoted by their local members. Utah representative Stephen Handy introduced a preemption bill saying, “I didn’t dream this up. I became aware of 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 a choice over their energy supply.

This is the same tactic that the tobacco lobby used in the face of government regulation: to shift public debate from health to freedom of choice. In New York, a Facebook advertisement run by a group called Energy Citizens asked, “Want Albany to Choose Your Appliances?” The Energy Citizens website describes the organization as a “diverse community of Americans,” but it was formed and funded by the American Petroleum Institute to oppose oil and gas regulation.

The argument about choice makes little sense when it comes to gas connections for homes. Most people are not in a position to choose their energy source for heating and cooking — that choice was made when their home was built. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over 25% of U.S. households already use electricity as their only source of energy. When most of us move into a new home, we just live with the appliances that are already installed. And in areas that successfully ban gas, the ban will only apply to new buildings. People who really care about gas can still choose to live somewhere built before the gas ban took effect.

The concern about cost is understandable, but policies in the Inflation Reduction Act have completely changed the economics. Before the law’s passage, the non-profit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy calculated that over the lifetime of the equipment, electric heat pumps are cheaper than gas heating systems, but the upfront cost can be $2,800 to $9,000 higher. The Inflation Reduction Act includes 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 coordinated opposition to gas bans from lobbyists, the potential to reduce carbon emissions, and the need to create healthier homes for our families, it is essential that New York’s All-Electric Building Act is passed in 2023. You can help make this happen by calling the governor and your state senator and assembly member to voice your support. As Governor Hochul 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.”

Thomas Turnbull is a student in Columbia University’s M.S. in Sustainability Management program.

Views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Columbia Climate School, Earth Institute or Columbia University.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

17 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anshul Gupta
Anshul Gupta
1 year ago

Great piece! On costs, I would add that a new gas hookup in NYC easily costs more than $10-12 thousand; several thousand in other parts of the state if not as much as in NYC. This cost is subsidized by all ratepayers. So in response to “concern about cost is understandable,” I can confidently say that there are no cost concerns when all costs are included. If possible, please add this perspective.

JOHN S.
JOHN S.
Reply to  Anshul Gupta
1 year ago

And as we know, hooking up anything else is free.

David
David
Reply to  Anshul Gupta
1 year ago

So what is the cost for upgrades to the electrical grid in NY to facilitate all electric construction? This of course will be needed to address the dramatic increase in demand of electricity primarily generated by fossil fuels.

Aaron M Beckman
Aaron M Beckman
Reply to  David
1 year ago

Yes I would like to know how all the extra electricity this change will require will be generated and distributed?
Short term, old mothballed coal power plants will probably have to be put back online to meet the tremendous electric demand that will come with the change from natural gas to electric heat.

Also many homes will need thier electric service upgraded, older homes with 100 amp ( or many way older homes with 60 amp) service will need costly upgrades to a 200 amp service.

Then the cost of running new 240v lines to service electric ranges and dryers being switched from gas.
Those high draw appliances don’t just plug into a normal outlet, they need a dedicated 240 volt circuit. More $$ for homeowners to spend, possibly in 10s of thousands of $$ depending on how much work to run brand new lines in a house with a finished basement.

This plan is ill conceived and poorly thought out, at best.

Dominic Palazzola
Dominic Palazzola
Reply to  Aaron M Beckman
1 year ago

This is for new construction at the moment not existing plus most single family dwellings are designed for both gas and electric.

Anshul Gupta
Anshul Gupta
1 year ago

Details of the coordinated campaign against building electrification in NYS can be found here: https://bit.ly/GaslightNY

JOHN S.
JOHN S.
1 year ago

Most people are not in a position to choose their energy source for heating and cooking — that choice was made when their home was built.”

And most people cannot choose the location where they live — that choice was made when their home was built.

D.A.
D.A.
1 year ago

No residential gas means paying hundreds more a month on electricity. The electric company will still use gas to produce electricity. They will still benefit from the low cost of gas, and pocket the huge mark up on the electricity they charge residences. This is such a rip off.

Aaron M Beckman
Aaron M Beckman
Reply to  D.A.
1 year ago

It’s a completely stupid proposal, but pretty much what Albany does.

Unless they build a bunch more gas fired power plants in the next few years, utilities will have to put the mothballed coal fired plants back online to meet demand in winter.
So there goes any reduction in greenhouse gasses, this plan could make it worse.

Peter
Peter
1 year ago

We are going to have to increase our electric capacity with new power lines and a new power source. New York State is building the Champlain Hudson Express Line to run from Quebec, Canada to New York City. This line will be on the bottom of the Hudson River and Lake Champlain.

NYTony
NYTony
1 year ago

Um, ok ANYONE here live in Western New York?????? No?? Well my gas fireplace kept us warm when power would fail. So uh, go freeze your *alls off while I stay warm. Maybe think about how much higher the death toll would be if others didn’t have the same. Some people went days without electric. Relying soley on Electric for heat in areas along the lake subjected to winter storms like this is simply idiotic and irresponsible at best.

Louis Yeostros
Louis Yeostros
1 year ago

This is a very shortsighted proposal that does not take into consideration the energy loss when using electricity to generate heat. using gas stoves and gas heat is a minimal goal to he carbon increase.
Also heat pumps generally are not effective in very cold temperatures, and even more not efficient when using hydronic heating systems, which ar ethe best heating systems from a health perspective

Last edited 1 year ago by Louis Yeostros
Cory Porter
Cory Porter
1 year ago

This is all about control

Peter Tejera
Peter Tejera
Reply to  Cory Porter
1 year ago

Maybe..or maybe someone is getting contributions or outright payoffs from the electric utilities…

Mike Heikkila
Mike Heikkila
1 year ago

I’ve been a licensed professional engineer in NY since 1991 and have designed many oil, coal, natural gas and electric hot water heating systems. Nuclear promised electricity too cheap to meter. I could go along with electric heating systems if electricity generation and distribution system deficiencies and total costs are defined. Shifting fossil fuel from 95%+ condensing boilers and furnaces to inefficient coal, oil or gas power plants makes no sense. Gas stoves and other appliances are safe; if you don’t want one, that’s your choice. Let me make mine.

Peter Tejera
Peter Tejera
Reply to  Mike Heikkila
1 year ago

Agreed, this move will drive many individuals, specially retirees like myself as well as small businesses..AND young people on marginal incomes clear out of this high tax state. These politicians will end up with a smaller tax base of low/ medium income families unless they bring down the cost of electricity,

Gennadiy Faybyshenko
Gennadiy Faybyshenko
6 months ago

What a bunch of propaganda. There is this agenda that want to make you think gas is bad, while it is not true. I guess we have to meet the 2030 agenda by world economic forum to eliminate all gas usage and go to electric and digital for better control for all of us.
And I do want to state Ia m for clean air and water, but not in a form of this cheap propaganda, I am engineer in my field and to state the leas, our large city power grids are not strong enough at this moment that during summer they are asking large buildings to lower their A/C.