City and county governments have long been at the forefront of the climate change fight. In the past two years, cities across the country have taken measures to ban natural gas equipment in new buildings and renovations. Berkeley, California was first and New York City became the latest and largest city to do so last month.
No city in North Carolina has passed or even taken up similar legislation and Republicans in the General Assembly want to make sure it stays that way.
Spurred on by claims from gas and building industry lobbyists that banning natural gas would increase construction costs and drive up utility prices, legislators introduced and passed House Bill 220.
Republican state senator Paul Newton acknowledged that HB 220 is in response to legislation passed by local governments in other states that banned natural gas or propane in an effort to electrify homes and buildings. “The primary purpose of this bill is to reaffirm that we make energy policy at the state level. Local government units do not,” said Newton. Rep. Dean Arp, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said the legislation was necessary to protect consumers' ability to choose the source for their heating and appliances.
The proposed bill seemed to be in direct conflict with other environmental measures. House Bill 951 mandating greenhouse gas reductions from Duke Energy became law earlier last year.
Electrification, replacing fossil fuel technologies, is critical to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas produces methane which the EPA says is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Extracting and transporting natural gas demands thousands of wells and miles of pipelines which tend to leak.
Fortunately, even without these energy bans, more natural gas furnaces and stoves are converting to carbon-free electricity from wind, solar, hydropower and nuclear projects which make up about 40% of the nation’s electricity supply, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Some cities are exempting gas stoves from the ban because, compared to heating buildings and water, they produce minimal emissions and some restaurant industry groups successfully argued that no self-respecting chef uses an electric stove.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed HB 220 when it reached his desk in early December. “This legislation undermines North Carolina’s transition to a clean energy economy that is already bringing in thousands of good paying jobs,” Cooper said in a statement. “It also wrongly strips local authority and hampers public access to information about critical information that impacts the health and well-being of North Carolinians.”
California approved the first building code in the nation to transition new homes and buildings away from fossil fuels A majority of the state’s new homes and buildings are estimated to be gas-free starting in 2023. New York might go a step further. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced her support for what would be the nation’s first statewide gas ban for new buildings.
Meanwhile, republican-led states like Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire and Utah are among the nearly 20 states that have already passed legislation to do what North Carolina Republicans could not–strip local governments of the ability to make energy policy.