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Gas Ban Monitor: San Francisco joins movement; Arizona GOP goes on offense


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Gas Ban Monitor: San Francisco joins movement; Arizona GOP goes on offense

The gas ban movement gathered steam in the opening weeks of 2020, as the industry continued to develop its response and New York City's mayor voiced support for prohibiting natural gas and fuel oil in large building systems. The momentum prompted Arizona Republicans to head off possible building electrification measures, while analysts hunted for signs of gas bans in service territories from New Jersey to the South.

San Francisco, Los Altos Hills bring Calif. count to 25

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a pair of building electrification measures as lawmakers prepare to adopt a blanket gas ban on new construction in California's fourth most populous city.

The first measure, passed Jan. 14, requires all-electric systems in new construction and major renovations of city-owned buildings. The second measure, enacted Jan. 17, establishes a so-called reach code that requires new buildings with natural gas or propane hookups to achieve higher energy standards than all-electric structures.

The second approach creates a disincentive to include gas systems in new homes and commercial buildings, following a model adopted by San Jose and several other jurisdictions. However, the Board of Supervisors is convening stakeholders and consulting experts to develop another means of banning gas in new construction, including a possible reach code requiring all-electric systems.

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"We see this is a starting point. Part of the purpose is to plant the flag, and to continue to signal out to the development community that we're moving in this direction — and it's to give people an interim path," said Jacob Bintliff, legislative aide to Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, the board member who sponsored both bills.

Mandelman's office expects work on an all-electric ordinance or gas ban to continue for several months into the spring.

Los Altos Hills, Calif., on Jan. 16 passed its own all-electric reach code, which bans the use of gas for space and water heating in new low-rise residences. Builders must also wire homes to give residents the option of electric cooking and clothes drying.

The town is located southeast of San Francisco in Santa Clara County, where most of California's 25 gas prohibitions have been passed. The county is developing a countywide building electrification measure.

Ariz. Republicans aim to preempt local gas bans

Republicans in the Arizona state Senate and House introduced legislation that would block local governments from enacting prohibitions on using gas in new buildings, seeking to head off potential efforts to require building electrification.

Companion bills in both chambers are broadly worded but appear to outlaw the three approaches that local governments in California have used to ban gas and promote electrification. They would prohibit cities, towns and counties from denying building permits based on the structure's future utility provider or imposing any fine or requirement meant to restrict the provision of utility services.

The legislation has drawn support from Arizona chambers of commerce, restaurant and industry groups, and local distribution company Southwest Gas Holdings Inc. Environmental groups, the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, and Pima County oppose it. The bill has split consumer advocates.

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Democrats and Republicans in Arizona are divided over a GOP proposal to prohibit local governments from banning or disincentivizing builders from installing gas hookups in new construction.
Source: Thinkstock

Committee votes on the legislation have fallen on party lines. Republicans have said the measure is necessary to protect consumer choice, while Democrats have argued it imposes the state's will on local governments over hypothetical gas bans.

Rep. Kirsten Engel, a Democrat representing part of Pima County, said the bill would foreclose on local governments' decisions on fossil fuel expansion and establish roadblocks for climate action. Utilities should have to make their case if and when a jurisdiction puts forward a gas ban, Engel said during a state House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee meeting on Jan. 28.

"This seems to be entirely the gas companies saying we're going to protect our turf in the future from some hypothetical thing — the Berkeley-ization of Arizona — which I think there is not much of a realistic possibility will happen," Engel said, referring to a pioneering gas ban passed in Berkeley, Calif.

Rep. Mark Finchem, a Republican who also represents part of Pima County, countered that California has long been a policy incubator for other states.

"To say that the Berkeley-ization of American cities is a hypothetical I think is short-sighted and ill-informed. That is going on right now, and there is a dedicated effort to see to it that that happens," Finchem said.

The GOP-controlled House Rules Committee voted on party lines on Feb. 3 to deem the bill constitutional after the Rules Attorney Office found the legislation is likely to survive a court challenge because state law typically trumps local ordinances.

New Mass. gas bans could be months away

Lawmakers in Cambridge, Mass., held off advancing a proposed gas ban and debated how much time they should dedicate to stakeholder meetings, signaling it could be months before they pass an ordinance.

City Councilor Quinton Zondervan has sought to quickly pass a gas ban in new construction and renovations with minimal exemptions. He suggested limiting stakeholder meetings to a month during a Jan. 27 city council meeting.

But some councilors advocated for several months of meetings to consider additional exemptions, take expert testimony and gather comments from labor organizations, small businesses, and racial and social justice groups.

"I'd rather take a little bit of time to make sure that we can pass something that has greater support, reduces the likelihood of litigation and really is meaningful to get us where we want to be," Councilor Marc McGovern said during the meeting.

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Zondervan recently introduced exemptions for construction in which building without gas systems is unfeasible or where a carve-out is in the public interest, such as for hospital equipment. The councilor motioned to put on hold a resolution to send the exemptions to other city bureaus as lawmakers seek more input.

Zondervan noted that he has been in talks with labor and biotechnology groups to address their concerns and said he has discussed clarifying regulations with city buildings and public works officials to avoid ambiguity in the ordinance. He also suggested forming a task force to explore a transition from fossil fuels that would avoid negative impacts on the working class and communities of color, similar to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal.

Meanwhile, the Clean Energy Future Committee in Arlington, Mass., voted to advance a measure to ban fossil fuel infrastructure in new buildings to the Boston suburb's Town Meeting, a 252-seat legislative body. The committee filed a warrant article to establish a new town bylaw, which initiates a hearing process through Arlington's five-member Select Board.

The next Town Meeting to vote on proposed bylaws takes place in April. The goal is to have the gas ban formulated by that time, Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said. He anticipates the Select Board will hold about two hearings on the warrant article while a parallel process to convene stakeholder meetings takes place.