DC Council Moves Closer to Banning Natural Gas Heating, Appliances in New Buildings

DC Council Moves Closer to Banning Natural Gas Heating, Appliances in New Buildings
Blue flames rise from the burner of a natural gas stove in Orange, Calif., June 11, 2003. (David McNew/Getty Images)
Masooma Haq

The District of Columbia Council is considering a proposal that would help residents toward ridding the nation’s capital of all fossil fuel-burning appliances and systems, including gas stoves.

The Healthy Homes Residential Electrification Amendment Act of 2023, which was introduced by Ward 6 Council Member Charles Allen earlier this year, includes amended laws for energy and construction in the district and, in its current iteration, aims to retrofit all of the district’s gas stoves and systems with electric appliances by 2045.

“For households earning less than $80,000, it could be done with no out-of-pocket costs, including purchase and installation,” Allen’s office said in a statement at the time.

The legislation would rely on federal money from both the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, he said.

The Council held a hearing about the proposal on May 9.

The proposal requires that the district’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) complete the residential electrification retrofits of 5,000 homes by Dec. 31, 2025; 10,000 homes by Dec. 31, 2030; and 20,000 homes by Dec. 31, 2035.

Richard Jackson, the DOEE’s interim director, said the law would direct his department to “provide replacement of natural gas-combusting home appliances at no cost to at least 30,000 low-income households by 2040.”

Much of the money for free retrofits will come from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) home energy rebate programs authorized under the Inflation Reduction Act will give the district $59 million over five years to complete the project, Jackson said.

He said it isn’t known when the DOE will release funding for these electrification projects.

The U.S. Department of Energy building is seen in Washington on July 22, 2019. (Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images)
The U.S. Department of Energy building is seen in Washington on July 22, 2019. (Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images)

Lacking Infrastructure

Garret Whitescarver, the district’s Department of Buildings (DOB) chief building officer, warned the council that his department’s infrastructure currently can’t handle the permit load for retrofitting gas stoves and heating systems, making it impossible to meet the targets for completion unless the bill is amended to bolster the agency.

During the hearing, the council heard from dozens of Washington residents about the bill, with the majority of the witnesses expressing support.

“We strongly recommend that implementation of the bill include mechanisms for both homeowners and renters to benefit, including potential funding for nonprofit affordable housing providers,” said Sarah Goodwin, who represents Lincoln Westmoreland Housing, a developer of nonprofit affordable housing with close to 200 units in the district.

Health Risk Argument

Allen and the majority of the witnesses said they believe that removing gas from homes is important because gas appliances contribute to high carbon emissions and respiratory diseases.
However, a 2013 study published in the National Library of Medicine reviewed data from more than 500,000 children in 47 countries, and the researchers “detected no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.”

The American Gas Association (AGA) stated that reports such as a 2022 study in Australia that linked asthma to gas stoves are “unsound.”

“Attempts to generate consumer fears with baseless allegations to justify the banning of natural gas is a misguided agenda that will not improve the environment or the health of consumers and would saddle vulnerable populations with significant costs,” the AGA stated in a January statement.

Awaiting Federal Guidance

The U.S. Department of Energy issued a proposed rule on Feb. 1 that would set maximum annual energy consumption standards for newly manufactured electric and gas cooking tops. The agency stated that although manufacturers of the stoves will incur costs, the long-term benefits would be worth the sacrifice.

“It is estimated that the industry would incur total conversion costs of $183.4 million,” the proposal reads.

The DOE acknowledged higher costs for consumers, who can expect to pay more than $32 million annually in increased costs.

The gas stove bill is a part of Washington’s larger plan to reduce carbon emissions and be carbon-neutral in the next two decades.

The fossil fuel energy used in homes and buildings is the largest contributor to the district’s greenhouse gas emissions, representing 72 percent in 2020, Jackson said.

The Heritage Foundation did its own calculations using the federal climate simulator model and found that the federal government’s proposal to increase efficiency standards for consumer stoves and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 19.6 million metric tons would result in a global temperature mitigation of only 0.0009 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years.

The AGA also argues that innovations in recent years have made natural gas a cleaner source of energy, allowing utility companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 69 percent since 1990.

However, the D.C. Council disagrees with the AGA and is following the guidance of studies such as a recent Stanford University study that found that natural gas stoves may emit high levels of indoor air pollution and likely play a role in climate change.

The D.C. City Council will wait until the DOE’s final guidance on phasing out the city’s gas appliances and systems.

“We certainly will get that federal guidance that comes in the summer; that’s going to help us inform what the final legislative package looks like,” Allen said.

Masooma Haq began reporting for The Epoch Times from Pakistan in 2008. She currently covers a variety of topics including U.S. government, culture, and entertainment.
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