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San Francisco Passes Landmark Natural Gas Ban for New Buildings

The city of San Francisco will begin banning natural gas as a heating or cooking energy source for all new residential and commercial buildings—except restaurants—as of next June, adding to a prohibition already in place banning natural gas in new city-owned buildings.

The U.S. Sierra Club called the ban, passed unanimously by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week, the “strictest natural gas prohibition passed by a big city so far in California,” writes Bloomberg. Similar measures are popping up all over, it adds, with nearly 40 municipalities throughout the state now enforcing natural gas hookup restrictions.

In its own report on the ban, Inside Climate News notes that “residential and commercial buildings account for more than 40% of San Francisco’s total greenhouse gas emissions, with the burning of natural gas responsible for the bulk of that.”

The city’s current power mix reflects that of the nation as a whole, adds InsideClimate, with natural gas “responsible for nearly 40% of the country’s total carbon emissions released each year, or 619 million metric tonnes of CO2.”

While both public health directives and “plummeting” renewable energy costs increasingly favour the switch away from natural gas, a smooth transition is encountering headwinds from lawmakers like Massachusetts’ attorney general, who recently struck down a Boston suburb’s ban on natural gas hookups on the grounds that the city ordinance was overridden by state law on the subject. (California’s constitution “allows city regulations to exceed state ones,” writes Inside Climate.)

In other states, notably those with Republican majorities, legislatures have been actively seeking to prohibit gas bans outright. Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas are among the states (numbering at least eight in total) that have made it illegal for local governments to adopt either natural gas bans or electrification measures.

Such measures sail against the economic winds, however. According to a recent study out of the University of California, Berkeley, “switching to clean energy sources would inject US$1.7 trillion into the U.S. economy over the next 15 years, and prevent up to 85,000 premature deaths by 2050,” writes Inside Climate.