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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A growing number of climate-conscious cities — from San Francisco to Brookline, Massachusetts — have voted to ban natural gas hookups in newly-built apartment and commercial buildings, putting an end to gas-powered stoves, water heaters and clothes dryers.

Why it matters: As more liberal-tilting cities like Seattle follow suit, the push toward "electrification" is likely to play out on the national stage, sparking debate over the merits of electricity vs. gas.

  • Already, the bans have drawn lawsuits from restaurateurs and building developers.

Where it stands: About 40 municipalities in California have banned the use of gas in new construction, with Berkeley being the first (in 2019) and San Jose the latest. The argument is that electricity causes fewer health and environmental problems than natural gas.

  • But some copycat efforts have been blocked: Brookline's measure was overruled by the Massachusetts attorney general, who said that state law superseded the local initiative.
  • Several states — like Oklahoma, Arizona, Louisiana and Tennessee — have taken preemptive moves, passing laws that say local governments can't do this, per Inside Climate News.

There are also cries of elitism, given that the cities involved are mainly wealthy and that gas-powered heat tends to be easier on the pocketbook.

  • "The bans have ignited a backlash from some of California’s most prominent Black and Latino leaders, who are saying that the prohibitions on the use of the fuel are a form of regressive tax on low- and middle-income residents," per Forbes.

The big picture: While the battles play out locally, major environmental groups are leading the campaign to get municipalities to ban natural gas, and big utilities and gas companies have organized in opposition.

  • "Two years ago, we realized that buildings were kind of blind spots in our climate policies," says Pierre Delforge, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, tells Axios. "The movement in cities passing these codes is really a stepping stone for the states to follow suit."
  • He anticipates that California will move in 2021 to encourage (but not require) electric power in new buildings, and that other states — like New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington — could follow suit.

Meanwhile, the American Gas Association has been gearing up in opposition. "This is not just about shutting down the natural gas industry — this is about damaging large swaths of the economy," Karen Harbert, the group's president and CEO, tells Axios.

  • "I think when the facts come out about how little this would accomplish — and at what huge costs — that we will see some more practical thinking emerge."
  • The average home that uses natural gas for cooking and clothes-drying saves about $879 a year vs. a home that is all-electric, Harbert said.

Between the lines: Natural gas is America's biggest single source of electricity, at nearly 40%. So even if cities are swapping out gas directly from buildings, it's often still powering them, depending on any given region's electricity mix.

The intrigue: The California Restaurant Association filed a federal lawsuit against Berkeley to block its ordinance.

  • "The suit argues restaurants rely on natural gas and chefs are trained in using it to prepare particular types of food like flame-seared meats, charred vegetables, or using intense heat from a flame under a wok," per the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • "Losing it will slow down service, reduce chefs’ control, and affect the food — plus cost businesses more."

Kate Harrison, the Berkeley City Council member behind the city's new law, tells Axios that builders and contractors are adjusting to the law — in effect for nearly a year now — and that people won't ultimately miss gas appliances.

  • "It’s a big cultural shift to say to people, 'cook a different way,'" she said. "I got an induction stove, and it took me a couple of days get used to it."

Go deeper

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
Jan 27, 2021 - Economy & Business

Telework's tax mess

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

As teleworkers flit from city to city, they're creating a huge tax mess.

Why it matters: Our tax laws aren't built for telecommuting, and this new way of working could have dire implications for city and state budgets.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to sign major climate orders, setting up clash with oil industry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden will sign new executive actions today that provide the clearest signs yet of his climate plans — elevating the issue to a national security priority and kicking off an intense battle with the oil industry.

Driving the news: One move will freeze issuance of new oil-and-gas leases on public lands and waters "to the extent possible," per a White House summary.

Updated 42 mins ago - World

Skripal poisoning suspects linked to Czech blast, as country expels 18 Russians

Combined images released by British police in 2018 of Alexander Petrov (L) and Ruslan Boshirov, who are suspected of carrying out an attack in the in the southern English city of Salisbury using Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and also the2014 Czech depot explosion. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbětice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two named Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.