By Rachel Ramirez and Ella Nilsen
New York is the first state in the country to ban natural gas and other fossil fuels in most new buildings — a major win for climate advocates, but a move that could spark pushback from fossil fuel interests.
Facing mounting pressure from environmental advocates and climate-minded voters, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Democratic lawmakers, who control the New York Senate and Assembly, approved the new $229 billion state budget containing the provision late Tuesday night.
The law bans gas-powered stoves, furnaces and propane heating and effectively encourages the use of climate-friendly appliances such as heat pumps and induction stoves in most new residential buildings across the state. It requires all-electric heating and cooking in new buildings shorter than seven stories by 2026, and for taller buildings by 2029.
The state’s budget doesn’t ban gas in all new buildings — there are exceptions for large commercial and industrial buildings like stores, hospitals, laundromats, and restaurants, for instance. But the impact on new residential buildings could be significant. Buildings account for 32% of New York State’s planet-warming emissions, according to a 2022 report.
Methane, the main component of natural gas used to fuel stoves and heat homes, has more than 80 times as much warming power as carbon dioxide in the first two decades it’s in the atmosphere. For that reason, scientists have narrowed in on the fossil fuel as a way to rapidly decrease planet-warming pollution. Several studies also have found that gas stoves are responsible for severe health conditions, including asthma.
The law’s passage comes after a federal official’s comments on gas stoves sparked controversy earlier this year. Richard Trumka Jr., a US Consumer Product Safety commissioner, set off a firestorm when he said in January that gas stoves were a significant source of indoor pollution linked to childhood asthma, and suggested that the agency could be working to ban them in new homes. Trumka later clarified his statement, saying the agency is “not looking to go into anyone’s homes and take away items that are already there.”
While New York is the first state to pass such a law, other cities have led the way. In 2019, Berkeley became the first US city to pass a code banning natural gas hookups in new buildings. Other cities, including San Francisco in 2020 and New York City in 2021, quickly followed suit.
But other municipalities looking to take similar action have run into brick walls. More than a dozen states with GOP-controlled legislatures have passed so-called “preemption laws” that prohibit cities from banning natural gas.
In a statement, Hochul spokesperson Katy Zielinski said the new budget “will protect our families and our residents, while putting New York on trajectory to a cleaner, healthier future.”
Alex Beauchamp, the northeast region director at Food & Water Watch, an environment non-profit that focuses on food and water issues, called the deal “a historic step,” but said the state is moving “too slowly” on climate action.
“New Yorkers are resisting fossil fuels everywhere they pop up, from the power plants that pollute our air to the pipelines that put our communities in harm’s way. Now buildings can be a part of that solution,” Beauchamp said. “We won’t stop fighting until we end our devastating addiction to fossil fuels.”
The natural gas industry pushed back on the state’s new law, characterizing it as taking away choices for consumers.
“Any push to ban natural gas would raise costs to consumers, jeopardize environmental progress and deny affordable energy to underserved populations,” American Gas Association president and CEO Karen Harbert said in a statement.
One legal expert who follows natural gas bans says that while New York’s ban is “potentially a very big deal,” it could face legal challenges.
“I do wonder how these legal fights are going to play out over this,” said Sarah Fox, an associate law professor at Northern Illinois University School of Law. Fox noted that the California Restaurant Association successfully challenged the city of Berkeley’s ban on gas stoves. (New York’s law carves out an exception for restaurants.)
But the fact that New York wields the power of a state could have an impact on legal repercussions, Fox added.
“I think it’s huge that a state is doing it, not only because New York is a big-impact state,” Fox said. “It takes it outside of this narrative of these are these fringe cities passing these policies. This is becoming a mainstream policy that a state like New York is taking on.”
Fox noted that even with a conservative Supreme Court, this could ultimately be seen as being the purview of a state’s right to pass its own laws.
“I think we’re going to learn in the coming months about how strategic you have to be about where those legal problems are going to present themselves,” Fox said.
In addition to banning natural gas, New York’s budget deal pushes other climate change efforts, including creating publicly owned renewable energy projects that would create green jobs as well as a cap-and-invest program that would make companies with a higher carbon footprint purchase permits to pollute. The revenue the cap-and-invest program raises would go toward initiatives that offset the impact of planet-warming pollution.
It’s been three years since New York implemented its landmark climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, that commits the state to net-zero emissions by 2050. But each year, the state adds roughly 250,000 metric tons of planet-warming pollution from the tens of thousands of new homes and buildings that are built with gas installations, according to an analysis by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit organization that advocates for the transition to clean energy.
Zielinski also noted the New York Power Authority is working on plans to decarbonize 15 state facilities with the most greenhouse gas emissions. The plans “will accelerate our progress towards a cleaner building sector, support the creation of high-quality jobs at future decarbonization projects including thermal energy networks, and move the State closer to reaching our climate goals,” Zielinski said in a statement.