Natural Gas Report Raising Emissions Concerns Comes Months After Strategy Meeting With State Officials
National anti-fossil fuel groups campaigning to stop the use of natural gas appliances in homes and businesses have released a review of reports that show health impacts of gas stoves in what appears to be an ongoing effort to force the electrification of household appliances in coordination with state officials across the country.
A new compendium of reports reviewed by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) comes months after a closed-door gathering of activists and state officials who discussed ways to phase out natural gas use and push for full electrification of buildings. The report concludes indoor gas stoves may raise indoor air pollution levels above accepted ranges for outdoor air, and it further advocates, in part, for the wider adoption of electric stoves.
“Burning gas in buildings is not only a threat to climate action but also to human health, as these appliances are sources of indoor air pollution,” the RMI report synopsis states. “Gas stoves, particularly when unvented, can be a primary source of indoor air pollution. What’s more, a robust body of scientific research shows the pollutants released by gas stoves can have negative health effects, often exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma.”
But industry voices say compelling full electrification at the expense of access to natural gas ignores consumer preferences.
“Consumers deserve choices. Activists too often want to tell us how to live our lives. Clean burning natural gas has long been the preferred heat source for cooking, whether that’s professional or amateur chefs, because it’s efficient. It works,” Dan Haley, President of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association told Western Wire. “Regulations exist to keep people safe, but they should not prohibit consumer choice, particularly when equipment is functioning as designed and it does not present any hazard to users.”
The RMI paper on indoor gas stoves was co-sponsored by the environmental groups Physicians for Social Responsibility, Mothers Out Front and the Sierra Club.
Poorly maintained stoves are more likely to have elevated emissions and the issue could largely be alleviated by opening a window, using a back burner or turning on the exhaust hood, according to the report.
RMI has been central in advancing a more aggressive approach to banning natural gas use. Late last year it was revealed that RMI hosted an event with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund that brought together state officials to discuss ways to implement policy that would eliminate the need for natural gas hook ups and require electric appliances.
As Western Wire previously reported, environmental groups have been teaming up with Democratic officials to implement the policy in friendly states that would phase out the need for natural gas in both dwellings and among municipal use.
During a closed-door session last summer, environmental groups like RMI, the World Resources Institute and Energy Foundation gathered at an expenses-paid retreat at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Pocantico Center in Tarrytown, N.Y.
“The top line Challenge-Opportunity is to move away from the use of natural gas in buildings as a first priority, then electricity, and industry, while simultaneously moving quickly to move transportation systems off petroleum,” read a background memo for the meeting, as reported on by the Washington Times.
Another panel entitled, “Natural Gas Lock In,” focused on eliminating the dependence on natural gas lines and infrastructure for future use. “We are well past the point of using natural gas as a transition fuel, and new policies and programs should explicitly avoid further ‘lock-in’ investments like natural gas fueled municipal buses or energy efficiency funding for natural gas equipment,” read the memo.
The policy has been playing out most prominently in California, where nearly a dozen cities have passed zoning codes that prohibit natural gas appliances in some fashion. However, the anti-gas movement is spreading in the Mountain West with Boulder, Colo. considering the adoption of a natural gas tax last spring. During a fundraising webcast, RMI Managing Director Jon Creyts characterized these bans a “first push” to depart from fossil fuel use and said the group was committed to expanding the policy on a national and later global scale.
RMI released another report last year that concluded grid stability was not threatened by replacing baseload energy resources like natural gas with intermittent renewable sources, adding that it could be done in a cost-effective manner.
But that may be wishful thinking when it comes to retrofitting the nearly half of American households that currently have a gas range. Conversion can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and electric appliances could boost utility bills by 30 percent, according to Consumer Affairs.
“Who’s going to pay for that?” Colorado State Senator Ray Scott told Western Wire.
“It’s been proven time and time again that natural gas is the least expensive, most efficient and clean burning fuel that’s ever been developed,” Scott continued, adding that electric heating is “probably the most inefficient heating system known to man.”
The high costs of electrification are bringing a diverse set of voices together in opposition to an abrupt about-face when it comes to energy generation.
After Berkeley, Calif., became the first city in the U.S. to ban natural gas in newly constructed homes, the California Restaurant Association sued, arguing that the policy would mean higher costs which would hurt business. Gas tends to be a preferred cooking method among chefs because it allows for more sensitive heat control.
A local homebuilding company called William Gallaher sued the town of Windsor, Calif., after the city council passed a similar ordinance that required electric appliances and banned natural gas hook ups in new developments.
Civil rights leaders have also been vocal about the importance of affordability with regards to the energy transition, since black and Hispanic communities tend to dedicate a disproportionate amount of their income to energy bills.
“I think people are concerned about the affordability and they are concerned about being left in the cold,” Rev. Al Sharpton told Axios’ Amy Harder. “I think natural gas is a temporary — I don’t think we ought to make it the end-all, be-all — solution, but in the interim, people in communities of color should not pay the brunt of suffering through cold winters.”
In March, local unions threatened to come out in full force to protest a vote by San Luis Obispo, Calif. officials on the matter in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Eric Hoffman, president of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 132, wrote an email to city leaders to oppose a possible job-killing measure during a time of economic turmoil, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“We will pull permits and close streets and have a massive protest on April 7th. Now is not the time to do this,” the letter wrote. “Please tell Mayor Harmon and the rest of the council for the sake of people’s health, that their efforts are better focused on how to better deal with this pandemic than to stir up all the emotions of people losing their jobs along with this disease.”
The vote was later postponed.
Home appliances powered by natural gas are responsible for an estimated four percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Energy Information Association.
“How deep is the rabbit hole? So if you talk about someone cooking their food on a gas range, what is next?” said Sen. Scott. “Is it the gas fireplace in the corner of the house is it the gas furnace in the house is it the gas water heater in the house, is it the barbecue on the back porch… the goal is to remove all of those things.”