The Biden administration is supporting a liberal California city's plan to ban gas stoves, arguing in federal court that such bans do not violate federal law and thus can be replicated in states and cities nationwide.
Officials from President Joe Biden's Department of Justice and Department of Education filed a joint brief in federal court on Monday arguing in favor of Berkeley, California's ban on natural gas in new buildings. Berkeley in 2019 became the first U.S. city to enact such a policy, but a federal court struck it down in April, finding that federal law prevents cities and states from restricting natural gas appliances.
The Biden administration's brief calls on the court to overturn the ruling. For the administration, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act—a 1975 law that gives only the federal government the power set energy efficiency rules—does not bar Berkeley from banning gas stoves, because that ban was made in the name of "health and safety" concerns, not energy efficiency concerns. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, by contrast, determined in its April ruling that the policy effectively renders "gas appliances useless" and thus skirts federal law.
If the Biden administration effort is successful, states and cities around the country could enact sweeping natural gas bans with little fear of judicial hurdles. These bans would likely reignite the political firestorm surrounding gas stoves. The president has attempted to distance himself from the controversy, with the White House saying earlier this year that "the president does not support banning gas stoves." The statement came after Biden's pick to serve on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Richard Trumka Jr., said a ban was "on the table," and the administration has since targeted gas stoves through regulatory actions and legal arguments.
In addition to its brief in support of Berkeley, Biden's Energy Department is pushing regulations that would effectively ban half of all gas stoves on the U.S. market. Still, Biden's energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, has said that the policy is no cause for concern—during a March congressional hearing, she said the "full range of gas stoves is absolutely not affected" by the regulations, given that "half of the gas stoves that are on the market right now wouldn't even be impacted."
Industry groups and Republican lawmakers have dismissed that assessment. They point to a December Energy Department test of 21 gas stove models, all but one of which failed to meet the rule's proposed efficiency standards. The test, groups such as the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers argue, shows that the regulation would actually nullify 96 percent of gas stoves.
"It's like they're in such a rush to regulate these products, and they're trying to cover their tracks. But they're doing an incredibly poor job of it," association vice president Jill Notini said in February. "We've never seen this level of sloppy analysis from DOE before."
The Energy Department did not return a request for comment.
After a panel of three federal judges unanimously overturned Berkeley's gas ban in April, green groups put pressure on Biden to take federal action. Liberal environmental group Sierra Club, for example, urged the administration to "alleviate legal scrutiny of city-level gas restrictions," including through nationwide bans on gas appliances, so the issue no longer needs to be litigated in states and cities across the country. Biden has worked closely with the Sierra Club both as president and as a presidential candidate.
Should the Biden administration fail to overturn the court decision blocking Berkeley's gas ban, the legal argument against the ban will almost certainly be replicated to target local gas bans across the country. Green groups in April warned that the decision "could have a chilling effect on states and cities pursuing similar bans," and one attorney who worked on the case said it "sets an important precedent for future cases, especially with other cities and states considering restrictions on natural gas."