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San Mateo, Contra Costa Pause Natural Gas Bans for New Buildings

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Blue flames from a stove against a black background.
A Kenmore natural gas stove in a San Francisco apartment on July 17, 2019.  (Lindsey Moore/KQED)

Contra Costa County this week halted enforcement of building codes requiring that new construction be all-electric, while San Mateo County halted enforcement of its similar code earlier this month.

The indefinite pauses follow a January ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit invalidating a city of Berkeley ordinance that prohibited natural gas hookups in all new residential and commercial buildings.

That’s after the legality of the ordinance was challenged by the California Restaurant Association, arguing that cities and counties are overstepping their authority in violation of a nearly 50-year-old law authorizing federal officials to set national efficiency standards.

This ruling is final for Berkeley unless the Supreme Court chooses to review the case.

Contra Costa County supervisors adopted the original ordinance in June 2022. It required new construction of all residential, hotel, office and retail buildings to be all-electric.

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In a press release, Contra Costa County representatives said their all-electric requirement prohibited the installation of gas plumbing in new buildings, which is similar to Berkeley’s ordinance. The county was “therefore suspending this requirement in response to the Ninth Circuit’s decision.”

“Contra Costa County remains committed to reducing the use of fossil fuels in buildings and continues to support the construction of new buildings using all-electric technologies,” Federal D. Glover, chair of that county’s Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. We are eager to identify new and innovative ways to continue to pursue our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.”

Despite the lawsuit challenging Berkeley’s ban, officials from several other Bay Area counties, including San Francisco and Sonoma, still enforce their codes for all-electric new construction (Sonoma’s only applies to residential dwellings).

Meanwhile, Napa County is still considering its own code update, which would incentivize new electric construction. It would also require builders to put vehicle charging ports in new homes and choose between going all-electric or installing a solar and battery system. The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the plan next month.

Advocates for cutting gas from buildings argue that requiring all-electric construction reduces costs, indoor air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Roughly a quarter of California’s emissions come from buildings and the energy used to power them.

Berkeley was the first city in the nation to pass such a ban on natural gas hookups in new construction, which went into effect in 2020. Nearly 100 other cities and counties have since followed suit, and it remains unclear how many will continue to enforce their codes in light of the recent court ruling.

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