Over the past three years, dozens of cities across the country have banned natural gas hookups in newly constructed buildings as part of a growing campaign to reduce carbon emissions from homes. The movement scored a major victory last month, when New York City’s outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a ban on gas hookups in new buildings.
Though new laws apply to the entire home, the policy debate often focuses on one room in particular: the kitchen. Gas stoves account for a relatively small share of the emissions released by a typical household, but they’ve become a proxy for a larger fight over how far efforts to curb at-home natural gas consumption in the name of fighting climate change should go.
Natural gas consumption accounts for 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions from residential and commercial buildings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One study estimated that New York’s ban on its own would create an emissions reduction comparable to taking 450,000 cars off the road. But the movement has met significant pushback. About 35 percent of U.S. homes use gas for cooking, and surveys show that many people are resistant to switching to an electric or induction range. The gas industry has also launched a massive lobbying campaign that has helped convince 19 Republican-led states to preemptively bar local governments from imposing bans on natural gas.
Beyond the climate implications of natural gas in general, there is also a movement to phase out gas stoves because of the harmful pollutants they release inside the home. Cooking on a gas stove releases nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, chemicals that have been connected with negative health conditions like asthma, with particular risk to children. One study found that gas stoves can create levels of nitrogen dioxide indoors exceeding the legal limits for outdoor air.
Why there’s debate
The debate over gas stoves is really a two-part conversation, with one element focusing on the environmental harms of at-home natural gas consumption in general, and the other specifically on the indoor pollution that gas cooktops create.
Climate change activists see gas bans as a powerful way to reduce the greenhouse gases created by buildings, which account for about 13 percent of total U.S. emissions. They argue that — unlike burgeoning technologies like a green power grid and electric vehicles — clean alternatives to gas heaters, appliances and stoves are readily available to most consumers. Critics of the bans, on the other hand, are skeptical of how much they’ll really reduce emissions, worry about increasing costs for homeowners and argue that market-based solutions will be most effective at promoting a transition to electrified homes.
When it comes to health, advocates say gas stoves are simply too toxic to be installed in new homes. They call for governments to create financial incentives to help homeowners switch to electric or induction stoves, an expense they argue will ultimately save money relative to the cost of potential health problems.
The gas industry makes the case that with proper ventilation, gas stoves can be safe. Conservatives also take issue with the idea of the government limiting individual choice. Others argue that focusing on gas stoves, a product many people have an intense loyalty to, will only increase resistance to electrification as a whole.
The list of cities to ban gas hookups in new construction appears primed to grow in the coming years, and opposition is likely to ramp up in response. So far, no statewide bans have been put in place. California has come the closest. Starting next year, all homes built in the state may be required to be wired so they’re “electric ready” even if they have gas appliances installed. In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed a statewide ban as part of a multipronged initiative to combat climate change.
Gas bans are the only way to meaningfully reduce emissions from the home
“For the individual homeowner, as for society at large, managing harmful pollution eventually starts to seem a little silly when equally effective, affordable, and pollution-free alternatives are available. It’s time to start making new buildings all-electric and switching out all those existing gas appliances, including gas stoves, for electric alternatives.” — David Roberts, Vox
Gas stoves are a great entry point for the broader effort to electrify homes
“The humble stove may seem like a tiny part of a big problem — but it’s one of our most personal, immediate and tangible. It’s also one of the easiest to change.” — Brady Seals, Guardian
A combination of legal limits and financial incentives could supercharge a shift away from gas
“The government could speed things up mightily with subsidies and regulation. If the state provided a big credit for property owners to replace their gas stoves, with particular attention on older stoves in apartment buildings (they often leak or burn very inefficiently), and set up new regulations on the amount of air pollution appliances could produce that would gradually tighten over time, gas cooking could be replaced entirely.” — Ryan Cooper, the Week
Gas stoves are toxic to our health
“Cooking is the No. 1 way you’re polluting your home. It is causing respiratory and cardiovascular health problems; it can exacerbate flu and asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in children. … You’re basically living in this toxic soup.” — Shelly Miller, environmental engineer, to Mother Jones
Electrification of homes is one of the few climate transitions that’s possible right now
“Real estate developers already have most of the technology to replace furnaces with heat pumps, hot water heaters with electric boilers, and gas stoves with induction cooktops. And because cities and towns control building and energy codes, it’s one of the few areas where they have the power to push through deep emission cuts.” — Ysabelle Kempe, Grist
Climate change is too important to leave up to the free market
“The pursuit of market-based solutions … as a pathway to addressing the energy transition in low-income and disadvantaged communities is likely infeasible, and also ethically dubious. Market-based solutions have not achieved their desired goals, thus new ways of thinking need to emerge.” — Multiple authors, the Appeal
Gas bans rob consumers of their freedom to choose what to have in their homes
“As for the gas stove, it’s the next target for elimination, because it uses gas. The Left, if they get control of everything, would ban it from new manufacture nationwide and then ban its replacement and ownership. … If someone in Montana or Florida or Seattle says, ‘But I prefer gas,’ you can only roll your eyes.” — James Lileks, National Review
The free market will be much more effective at promoting a transition from gas
“With respect to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there would be no need to mandate building electrification if it were already cheaper than the fossil fuel alternatives for heat, hot water, and cooking. … In other words, the adoption of electric home heating has been proceeding expeditiously without mandates.” — Ronald Bailey, Reason
Attacking gas stoves is a great way to turn people off from electrification in general
“Home kitchens thus account for about 0.4% of U.S. natural gas use. … That’s not a lot! Gas cooking does, however, seem likely to be the biggest obstacle to the effort to electrify the American home in the name of slowing climate change. Why’s that? Mainly because people (myself included) like cooking with gas! It’s one of the few energy uses that inspires brand loyalty to the fuel consumed.” — Justin Fox, Bloomberg
Gas bans will actually increase emissions without a green energy grid
“It has evolved into the transitional fuel of our time, allowing the U.S. to quickly ditch coal while giving renewables time to expand to the scale needed to power the entire electricity-hungry country. Once those renewables have reached that scale, banning natural gas in residential construction starts making environmental sense. Until then, these proposals are ultimately increasing our carbon footprint.” — Ognjen Miljanić, The Hill
Gas stoves aren’t ideal, but aren’t as harmful as critics make them out to be
“It’s a good choice to avoid gas if you’re replacing your stove anyway. … But if you’re looking for personal ways to protect the environment and your health right now, you have much bigger fish to fry. Electrifying your space- and water-heating systems, or your car, will have a massively larger impact, as will ventilating your kitchen.” — Liam McCabe, New York Times