Many localities have enacted new restrictions that prohibit all natural gas use in new construction. Despite one official declaring that "everything was on the table" because of the health risks of burning gas in your kitchen, the federal government has no plans to ban gas burners. However, dozens of cities—and some states—are already moving away from natural gas so that purchasing a gas stove, even if not prohibited, will be pointless.
Berkeley became the first city in the USA to modify its building code to prohibit gas hookups in new buildings in 2019. It was a reaction to the climate emergency: natural gas accounted for about a third of the city's emissions. The bill was proposed by a city council member who "recognized the necessity for us to stop the development of a growing origin of greenhouse gas emissions in the city," according to Sasan Saadat, a policy analyst at Earthjustice, one of a coalition of environmental parties that worked with the city. "We weren't going to make much headway in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions if we connected more buildings to the gas line every time we developed new housing." The bill was approved overwhelmingly.
Other cities soon followed. "City council members were desperate to respond to their people's calls for climate action," adds Saadat. "Cities were particularly positioned to lead on this. So, when they saw that Berkeley was saying, 'You can do this,' communities across the country wanted to mimic climate action at a time when public calls had reached a fever pitch. The efforts were centered on something other than the health benefits of quitting gas. At the same time, organizers acknowledged that gas stoves produce dangerous pollution levels in households and are connected to childhood asthma.
According to a Building Decarbonization Coalition tracker, 99 U.S. towns and counties now have some building decarbonization ordinance. In new buildings, 82 require electric appliances—often including stoves, but occasionally only heaters. Others necessitate "electric readiness," so a home or apartment might quickly transition to equipment such as an induction stove.
New York City is on the list, having banned gas hookups in new buildings by 2021. The first phase of the ban will go into effect later this year, with developers of buildings under seven stories required to use heat pumps, induction stoves, and other electric equipment instead of fossil-fueled ones. Larger new building developers will have to make the changeover by 2027. The restriction follows an earlier "building performance standard" in the city, which compels major structures to reduce energy-related emissions.
Other major cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, have all-electric regulations. (Gas stoves are currently used by 70% of households; all-electric homes are more frequent in several red states.) There are several versions of the regulations in place. Last year, Washington, D.C., established an all-electric mandate for new residences and low-rise apartment complexes, but the regulation for bigger commercial buildings was rejected. Gas furnaces and water heaters have been outlawed in commercial and big apartment buildings in Seattle, although gas cooking is still permitted.
Implementing the bans has been fraught with difficulties: Berkeley was sued by the California Restaurant Association, claiming that it would impact restaurant kitchens. (Although the lawsuit was rejected, the organization is appealing. Restaurants are now exempt from the laws in some other places; however, new induction stoves may work even for things like wok cooking). In Massachusetts, a Boston suburb attempted to add an all-electric necessity to its building code in 2019, but the state attorney general claimed it violated state regulations; the state approved a bill this year that allows ten cities to implement bans.
Several states, notably Arizona and Tennessee, have imposed "bans on bans" to prevent communities from regulating gas use. Nonetheless, further limits are expected to be imposed in the future. "There has been a lot of ongoing movement in the previous several months," says Mike Henchen, a principal with the charity RMI. For example, New York's governor recently proposed a statewide ban on gas in new buildings.
Almost all of the ordinances apply solely to a new building. "New construction is a much easier lift," says Amy Rider, policy acceleration director at the nonprofit Building Decarbonization Coalition. However, Ithaca, New York, intends to assist citizens in existing decarbonizing buildings by the end of the decade. San Diego voters decided to prohibit gas hookups in new buildings last year and electrify nearly all existing structures during the next 12 years.
The Inflation Reduction Act's incentives and tax benefits, which can assist individuals in acquiring heat pumps and electric stoves, can also help existing homeowners make the conversion. "Ideally, it's a market-driven approach, and we believe these all-electric items will win on their merits in a large number of cases across the country," says Steve Pantano, research director at the charity Rewiring America. More state and local incentives, as well as programs to train more personnel to install the new technology, can assist, according to Henchen. Federal regulators could also require stove makers to mark their products so that consumers know about the health concerns.
Pantano contends that a ban on gas stoves makes little sense now but that greater regulation may be implemented in the future. "This country has a long history of regulatory measures that follow the market and lock in transitions or progress as they've been created," Steve Pantano says. "We've seen it with light bulbs, we've seen it with different efficiency standards... that should come in after people have made many independent decisions to adopt new technology."
New induction stoves are arguably superior to gas stoves, yet many people react negatively to losing something they own. "There's just a human psychology factor—people are inherently more protective of what they already have," Rider adds. "That said, there are numerous technologies where we've seen an adoption curve: early adopters are people who are eager to test new items, and there's a tipping point where new technologies that are superior become widespread."