New York City Bans Future Gas Hookups, But it May Not be Much of a Trend

What’s the issue?

Just before he left office at the end of last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law in New York City that will ban future gas hookups for residential buildings in that city.

Why does it matter?

New York City touted the ban as “proof that it’s possible to end the era of fossil fuels.” It was promoted as a ban on gas use and as a pattern to be followed by other cities to “fight back against climate change on the local level and guarantee a green city for generations to come.”

What’s our view?

The ban is not nearly as broad as it was promoted to be. Also, local efforts are not likely to be replicated across the country, as many states have already passed legislation that prohibits the local governments in those states from enacting such bans. But, the action by the city also demonstrates the need for the pipeline industry to ensure that it keeps tabs on political actions beyond the federal level and down to the state and even local levels if it hopes to remain a viable transportation alternative.

 


 

Just before he left office at the end of last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law in New York City that will ban future gas hookups for residential buildings in that city. The mayor touted the ban as “proof that it’s possible to end the era of fossil fuels.” It was promoted as a ban on gas use and as a pattern to be followed by other cities to “fight back against climate change on the local level and guarantee a green city for generations to come.”

However, as we discuss today, the ban is not nearly as broad as it was promoted to be. Also, such local efforts are not likely to be replicated across the country as many states have already passed legislation that prohibits the local governments in those states from enacting such bans. But, the action by the city also demonstrates the need for the pipeline industry to ensure that it keeps tabs on political actions beyond the federal level and down to the state and even local levels if it hopes to remain a viable transportation alternative.

 

The Supposed Ban

Although the mayor claimed the ban was a ban on gas use in the city, it is not nearly that broad. First, it primarily applies only to residential buildings, as it does not apply to any part of a building used for manufacturing or for the operation of a laboratory, laundromat, hospital, crematorium, commercial kitchen, or to heat the space occupied by such use or purpose. Second, it only applies to new construction, so there is no ban on the use of gas in any existing building, including conversions from other sources of fuel, like oil. Third, even for new buildings, it only applies to smaller buildings of six floors or less in height beginning with construction permits filed in 2024 and later, and for buildings that are seven floors or higher, the law does not apply until July 1, 2027. Given the expected life-cycle for buildings and for gas appliances, the “ban” essentially means gas will be a critical element of the city’s fuel sources well past 2050, by which time the city has promised to be carbon neutral.

 

A Path for Others to Follow

The mayor also touted the new law as an example for other cities across the country and even around the world to follow. However, in response to a similar “ban” enacted by the city of Berkeley, California in 2019, twenty states have now enacted legislation that would prohibit cities and other local governments within those states from enacting similar bans on natural gas as a fuel for buildings.

 

 

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As seen above, twenty states have passed laws that prohibit local governments from enacting bans on natural gas as a source of fuel. While the vast majority of those states are controlled by Republicans, not all of them are. For instance, the state of Kentucky passed such a measure and it was signed into law by its Democratic governor.

Even without an express law prohibiting such local bans, attempts to enact such bans may not be permitted under existing state laws. As an example, the town of Brookline, Massachusetts enacted a law that would have prohibited any building permits for certain types of buildings with fossil fuel infrastructure. However, in 2020 the Democratic Attorney General determined that such local ordinances violate the state’s laws. In reaching that determination, the Attorney General noted that if she were permitted to base her determination on policy considerations, she would approve the law because she fully supports the policy goal of the law. However, in carrying out her statutory obligation to review local laws, the Attorney General is precluded from taking policy issues into account and her scope of review is limited to determining whether the local law conflicts with the laws or Constitution of Massachusetts — and she found that it did.

 

Actions at all Levels of Government Bear Watching

As we discussed in What Are We Watching in 2022?, the Biden administration is struggling to pass its Build Back Better Act and we expect there to be a lot of activity at the state and local levels if that bill’s energy provisions fail to be enacted. The activity on both sides of this issue is a prime example of the type of political maneuvering that the pipeline industry needs to be watching going forward. There has clearly been activity at the state level in the states that enacted prohibitions on local government bans, and the American Public Gas Association (APGA) pushed back hard against the New York City ban. However, this will likely be a continuing issue in the remaining thirty states and one that the pipeline industry will likely need to monitor. As the APGA made clear in its response to the New York City ban, such actions risk sidelining “reliable and resilient natural gas infrastructure,” for little to no benefit in meeting greenhouse gas goals because it merely shifts New York’s “natural gas usage upstream to power an already-overburdened electric grid.”

If you would like information on the states that have banned local ordinances like New York’s, please contact us.

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