Bay Area Lawmaker Seeks to Ban Gas in New State Buildings and Schools

Pumps draw petroleum from oil wells near a California home.  (David McNew/Getty Image)

A Bay Area lawmaker is seeking to limit the use of natural gas in new public buildings and schools across California in a bill introduced in the Assembly this week.

AB 33, introduced by Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, would only affect new state buildings and public schools by, in effect, requiring electric furnaces and appliances. But it would also prevent utilities from offering its customers subsidies for new gas pipe installations anywhere.

Across California, advocates have pushed cities and state agencies to ban gas. What began a year-and-a-half-ago with Berkeley passing a first-of-its-kind ordinance to prohibit natural gas in newly constructed buildings has spread to more than three dozen cities across California,  including San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland in the past month alone.

Ting’s office says 10% of the state’s emissions come from gas appliances used to heat buildings and dry clothes. His bill is meant to improve the air quality in new public buildings, limit the growth of a vast network of natural gas lines around the state and fight climate change.

“We need to confront rising [greenhouse gas] emissions by reducing these harmful air pollutants where we can,” he said. “No adjustment is too small.”

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The bill will be heard in an Assembly committee next spring. If passed, it would not impact any of the local laws, Ting's office said.

Whether or not the bill passes, activists hope that the California Energy Commission will ban natural gas in new construction when it updates its building code next year.

Some utilities and developers like the ones represented by the California Building Industry Association have opposed the total elimination of gas hookups. 

Morgan Morales, a spokesperson for the group, wrote in an email that “a piecemeal approach to energy usage for homes hurts consumers and jeopardizes power supply.”

“A comprehensive and incentive-based approach is needed to solve our climate problems, not mandates and restrictions," she said.

The Southern California Gas Co. and other industry trade groups have pushed back, too.

“What happens if I want to build a home with natural gas, and I’m told I cannot?” said Richard Meyer, managing director of energy analysis at the American Gas Association, in an interview with the LA Times  “What happens when I reply that it’s the fuel my family has always cooked with, and it’s a lot less expensive for me to use?”