Mar 2, 2023 - Business

State's plan to phase out natural gas in buildings prompts lawsuit

Illustration of a glass lightning bolt with cracks in it.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Washington state's new rules requiring most new buildings to be equipped with heat pumps instead of fossil-fuel-burning furnaces are facing their first major challenge.

What's happening: A coalition that includes several building industry groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging the State Building Code Council overstepped its authority when approving the new energy-efficiency rules.

  • The lawsuit says such a sweeping policy shift should have been approved by the state Legislature, rather than the unelected building code council.

Why it matters: The move to mostly electric heating and cooling in new buildings is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. But builders argue it will increase housing costs, while making it difficult for homeowners to choose natural gas if they want it.

Catch up quick: Washington was the first state to adopt electric heat pump requirements for new commercial and multifamily buildings, according to E&E News.

  • Several months later, the building code council followed up by passing heat pump mandates for newly constructed smaller residential buildings.

What they're saying: "These regulations effectively eliminate natural gas or propane use in the home," the lawsuit says.

  • According to the claim, that will "interfere with commercial and consumer energy choice" and "unnecessarily increase the cost of homebuilding, ownership, and maintenance."

Context: In addition to builders, the coalition behind the lawsuit includes a group representing propane suppliers, along with a labor organization representing four construction worker unions.

  • The lawsuit comes as multiple Republican proposals to curtail the building code council's power appear to have stalled in the Legislature.

The other side: A spokesperson with the State Building Code Council said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

What's next: If the legal challenge is successful, the new building code changes could be put on hold or even rolled back.

  • Otherwise, the new requirements for heat pumps to be installed in new residential and commercial buildings are scheduled to take effect in July.
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