A federal appeals court ruling that struck down a California city's natural gas ban is putting the pressure on President Joe Biden to take federal action to ban gas appliances.
After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday unanimously overturned Berkeley, California's first-in-the-nation ban on natural gas in new buildings, green energy advocates sounded the alarm that the decision "could have a chilling effect on states and cities pursuing similar bans." That's because the court found that a federal law from 1975 prevents cities and states from restricting natural gas appliances, a decision that one attorney who worked on the case said "sets an important precedent for future cases, especially with other cities and states considering restrictions on natural gas."
Now, with local gas bans across the country potentially in jeopardy, green energy groups are urging Biden to alleviate the problem through federal action.
Gloria Smith, a managing attorney at the liberal environmental group Sierra Club, suggested Tuesday that the Biden administration take federal action to "alleviate legal scrutiny of city-level gas restrictions," including through nationwide bans on gas appliances. Local gas bans, Smith said, don't "need to be an issue for the courts"—instead, Biden could take the advice of the Sierra Club and other leading green groups, 26 of which petitioned the Biden administration last year to ban gas-powered furnaces and water heaters and set "performance standards" that would restrict gas stove use.
Biden has repeatedly partnered with the Sierra Club on climate change issues during his time in the White House, and the group's endorsement of Biden in 2020 helped the Democrat gain support from the party's left flank. Should he follow the group's advice and enact national restrictions on natural gas, however, the decision would almost certainly reignite the political firestorm surrounding gas stoves.
Biden has already faced criticism from congressional Republicans over his pick for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Richard Trumka Jr., who in January said a gas stove ban was "on the table." While the White House quickly distanced itself from Trumka's threat—press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre assured the public "the president does not support banning gas stoves"—the Biden administration went on to target gas stoves through multiple federal agencies, prompting intense pushback.
In March, for example, Trumka's commission voted to seek public input on gas stove regulations, a move the Biden appointee called "an important milestone on the road to protecting consumers from potential hidden hazards in their homes—the emissions from gas stoves." Hundreds of Americans responded by flooding the commission with negative comments, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Biden's Energy Department has also moved to restrict gas stoves in recent months. The department in February acknowledged that its proposed cooking appliance regulations would effectively ban half of all gas stoves on the U.S. market from being sold, a figure that the home appliance industry says is a gross underestimate. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, for example, has argued that the proposed rule would actually nullify 96 percent of the gas stove market, given that a December Energy Department test of 21 gas strove models found that all but one failed to meet the rule's efficiency standards.
"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," the association's vice president Jill Notini said in February. "We've never seen this level of sloppy analysis from DOE before."
The White House did not return a request for comment.
Berkeley in 2019 became the first U.S. city to ban gas pipes in new buildings. The California Restaurant Association quickly challenged the policy through a federal lawsuit, which eventually made its way to the Ninth Circuit after a lower court sided with Berkeley in 2021. Despite the White House's claim that Biden does not support banning gas stoves, the Democrat's Justice and Energy departments submitted legal briefs in support of Berkeley.
Blue cities in California and New York enacted similar bans in the years following Berkeley's, and both states are now working toward statewide natural gas bans. Advocacy groups such as the American Gas Association, however, are confident that those bans will be deemed illegal.
"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit took a huge step today that will both safeguard energy choice for California consumers and help our nation continue on a path to achieving our energy and environmental goals," association president Karen Harbert said in a Monday statement. "Natural gas has been one of the primary drivers to achieving environmental progress, and any ban on this foundation fuel will saddle consumers with significant costs for little environmental gain."