Court upsets natural gas ban in Berkeley, California

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Monday overturned the nation’s first ban on natural gas in new construction in Berkeley, California, agreeing with restaurant owners who argued the city skirted federal energy regulations when it approved the ordinance.

The measure, which came into effect in 2020 to the acclaim of environmentalists, was intended to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. With some exceptions, it banned new residential and commercial buildings from installing natural gas lines in favor of electric lines.

A lawsuit filed by the California Restaurant Association claimed the ordinance violated federal laws that give the U.S. government authority to set energy efficiency standards for appliances such as stoves, ovens and water heaters.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a lower court judge’s decision two years ago upholding the Berkeley ordinance. In her 2021 decision, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said the city doesn’t seek to regulate the energy efficiency of appliances, only the fuel they use.

But Judge Patrick Bumatay wrote in the 3-0 Ninth Circuit decision that a local ordinance banning appliances like gas ranges “affects the amount of energy” they use, which is regulated by the federal government.

Jot Condie, President of the Restaurant Association, welcomed the decision. Berkeley’s ban was “an excessive measure, beyond the scope of a city,” he said in a statement.

“Cities and states are unable to regulate the energy use or energy efficiency of devices that businesses and homeowners have chosen; Energy policy and conservation is an issue of national concern and national security implications,” Condie said.

Supporters of the ordinance said the decision would not affect a small number of other California cities that have encouraged electrification in their building codes.

According to a statement by a group of environmentalists, the verdict should be appealed.

Matt Vespa, a senior attorney for the non-profit organization Earthjustice, called the decision misguided.

“As we face a climate and air quality crisis from coast to coast, it is vital that cities and states maintain all legal avenues to protect public health, reduce climate emissions and increase safety by protecting the Address pollution from buildings, and we will continue to fight to ensure that authority is maintained,” Vespa said in a statement.

Research has found that gas stoves in California are leaking carcinogenic benzene, while another study found that US gas stoves contribute to global warming by releasing 2.6 million tons of methane into the air each year, even when turned off.

New York City phased out most new construction from using natural gas within a few years. Most construction projects submitted for approval after 2027 would need to use something other than gas or oil — electricity, for example — for heating, hot water and cooking.

Some federal lawmakers have asked the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to address the potential health risks through regulations such as: B. Requiring that gas stoves be sold with extractor hoods to improve ventilation, or publishing mandatory performance standards for gas stoves to address the health effects of hazardous gas emissions.

But the Biden administration said earlier this year that there are no plans for a federal ban on gas stoves.

The California Restaurant Association argued that the Berkeley ban could undermine the area’s reputation for fine and creative cuisine.

“Indeed, restaurants specializing in international fare so treasured in the Bay Area will not be able to prepare many of their specialties without natural gas,” the lawsuit states.

And while the ban only applied to some new builds, the association feared it could be the start of efforts to ban or limit the use of natural gas in existing buildings.

The trade group said such a move would harm restaurants that rely on gas “to cook certain types of food, whether it be seared meat, charred vegetables or using intense heat from a flame under a wok,” it said the lawsuit.

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