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Gas ban monitor: Mass., Calif. movements grow; pro-gas group preps $1M campaign

Several developments in December 2019 capped a wave of regulations proposed in the fall to curb the use of natural gas in residential and commercial buildings, signaling that the movement will continue to expand and the industry's response is evolving.

Proponents of the climate change policy made progress in California, Massachusetts and Washington, even as legal hurdles emerged in both the Bay State and Berkeley, Calif. Two dozen cities, towns and counties had building gas prohibitions on the books at the end of 2019, with several others progressing at various stages. At the same time, gas companies, energy trade groups and their allies appear to be coalescing around a strategy to shore up support for the fuel among consumers.

Gas ban movement spreads to another Boston-area town

Arlington, Mass., intends to pursue a ban on natural gas in new buildings, making it the fourth Boston suburb to take up the issue.

The town's Clean Energy Future Committee resolved in December 2019 to take a vote in January on advancing a gas ban to Arlington's Town Meeting, its 252-seat legislative body.

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Arlington, Mass., joins nearby Brookline, Cambridge and Newton in pursuing a ban on natural gas hookups in new buildings or renovations.
Source: AP Photo

A gas ban in new buildings is among the many measures the Clean Energy Future Committee is considering as it develops a plan to make Arlington carbon neutral by 2050. However, the ban is one of several proposals that could advance ahead of the broader plan, Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said.

Arlington will likely model its measure after a bylaw recently adopted in nearby Brookline, Mass. That ban included a carve-out for gas cooking, and Arlington has already discussed how to treat restaurants, Chapdelaine said.

Arlington decided to fast-track the issue in part because local climate activists intended to file a warrant article if the town did not act. "If there's a way for us to come out of the gates working together, I think it makes sense," Chapdelaine said.

Chapdelaine expects the Massachusetts attorney general's office will complete its review of the Brookline ban by the spring, allowing Arlington to factor the decision into its legislation.

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New Pacific Northwest nonprofit to launch $1M pro-gas campaign

Gas companies are partnering with business groups and unions to launch a campaign to push back against gas bans in the Pacific Northwest.

The coalition in November 2019 formed Partners for Energy Progress, a nonprofit that aims to promote "the importance of natural gas and renewable gas as a significant component of a balanced energy portfolio." The group intends to spend $1 million to promote the fuels and counter efforts to limit their use, according to The Seattle Times, which first reported the group's formation after obtaining industry documents.

The group filed articles of incorporation after a Seattle City Council member introduced legislation to ban gas in new construction and just weeks before a task force in Bellingham, Wash., proposed a prohibition on gas heating in both new and existing buildings.

The group's board of directors includes Ed Finklea, director of natural gas for the Alliance of Western Energy Consumers; Gary Chandler, vice president for government affairs at the Association of Washington Business; and Leanne Guier, political coordinator for UA Local 32, Seattle's plumbers and pipefitters union. Guier will serve as president and spokesperson for the group, the Times reported.

The organization's multistakeholder structure dovetails with the American Gas Association's calls for the industry to put allies like unions out front. The model has yielded small victories in Washington, where a coalition of labor groups, gas appliance manufacturers and Puget Sound Energy Inc. successfully delayed a vote on Seattle's proposed ordinance.

Cupertino brings Calif. gas ban count to 23

Lawmakers in the home of Apple Inc. pushed one last all-electric building code over the finish line at the end of 2019.

The Cupertino, Calif., City Council voted unanimously on Dec. 17, 2019, to require electric-powered heating, cooking and clothes drying in new buildings. The vote brought the number of Golden State building sector gas prohibitions to 23, according to the Sierra Club's count.

Cupertino will prohibit gas, propane and other fossil fuels in new construction by adopting a building code that goes above and beyond the state standard, known as a reach code. Using reach codes to require all-electric heating and appliances has become the most popular method among California lawmakers aiming to sideline gas in new buildings.

The code includes narrow exemptions for certain building uses, though builders would have to wire developments for electric appliances. The council allowed restaurants to apply for permission to cook with gas on a case-by-case basis after a lengthy debate on a blanket exemption for commercial kitchens.

The Sierra Club called the Cupertino measure "by far one of the strongest" reach codes of 2019, noting it applies to pools, spas, barbecues and accessory dwelling units.