The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Own Poll Found Most New Yorkers Support a Gas Ban in New Buildings

As New York considers prohibiting natural gas in new construction, a survey commissioned by oil and gas companies found 57 percent of state residents support the measure.

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK - JULY 4: Six meters placed by National Grid measure natural gas consumption in a residential apartment building July 4, 2017 in Brooklyn, New York. National Grid is the fifth largest distributor of natural gas in the United States. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

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A coalition of natural gas and oil companies, utilities and labor unions has released a new poll that found that a majority of New Yorkers support banning methane gas hookups in newly constructed buildings, starting in 2025, to help fulfill the state’s ambitious climate law. The poll also found that New Yorkers are generally concerned about the cost of electrifying buildings and worry that transitioning to fully electric buildings too quickly could cause problems, including more power outages.

New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, a pro-gas advocacy group whose members include National Grid, Enbridge and the American Petroleum Institute, published a poll Wednesday that found that 57 percent of New Yorkers either somewhat or strongly support “banning natural gas furnaces and appliances in new building construction starting in 2025.” The group commissioned Siena College to conduct the poll, which surveyed nearly 900 New Yorkers in February and had a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points—well within the range considered acceptable by professional pollsters.

The poll also found that 87 percent of New Yorkers are somewhat or very concerned about the costs consumers will absorb as the state moves away from heating buildings with fossil fuels, and 80 percent are somewhat or very concerned that converting all the state’s buildings to fully electric will result in power outages.

But in its Wednesday press release promoting the poll, New Yorkers for Affordable Energy didn’t include the 57 percent figure showing support for a 2025 gas ban, instead only reporting that 68 percent of Western New Yorkers opposed such a measure. Western New York consists of just 8 of New York’s 62 counties, making up about 1.4 million of New York’s 19.6 million residents. Nearly half of the state’s population lives in New York City, where—according to the poll—68 percent support a natural gas ban in new construction.

That prompted several climate advocacy groups this week to accuse New Yorkers for Affordable Energy of spreading misleading information to the public to promote natural gas, saying it was the latest attempt by the fossil fuel industry to safeguard its finances by obstructing and delaying policy proposals that would help New York achieve its climate law. The 2019 law requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050.

“New Yorkers for Affordable Energy is definitely cherry picking the data from its own funded poll in order to spin a false narrative that New Yorkers supposedly oppose” the state’s climate law, said Itai Vardi, a communications and research manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, a San Francisco-based climate advocacy think tank. “If anything, the poll shows that New Yorkers largely support electrification and substantial climate policy measures—they merely need robust public financial incentives and assistance to make the transition.”

New Yorkers for Affordable Energy did not respond to questions from Inside Climate News regarding its poll and general criticisms against the organization.

The poll’s release comes as New York officials weigh how exactly they’ll meet the state’s aggressive targets, which are among the most ambitious in the country. Buildings produce 32 percent of New York’s total carbon emissions, making them the state’s largest greenhouse gas emitter by sector, followed by transportation at 28 percent. And in January, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed a series of new building regulations to address their outsized climate impact, including requiring new residential and commercial buildings to be all-electric by 2025 and 2030, respectively.

But Vardi and other climate activists have criticized New Yorkers for Affordable Energy in recent years, accusing it of playing a central role in campaigns to thwart state climate efforts. Several activists, including members of the Natural Resources Defense Council, have accused New Yorkers for Affordable Energy of being a “front group” for major oil and gas companies while presenting itself as a grassroots community organization.

Many of the group’s members who sit on its steering committee and directly fund its operations, including the American Petroleum Institute and National Grid, have a long history of lobbying against climate policies, including New York’s landmark climate law. And a report published last year found that ten of the organization’s key financial supporters led a $15.5 million lobbying campaign to advance fracking and expand fossil fuel infrastructure in New York. 

The report also noted that two of the three founding directors of New Yorkers for Affordable Energy currently work as executives for large gas companies. Co-founder Michelle Hook, the organization’s current executive director, is the vice president for public affairs of Danskammer Energy, and co-founder Karen Merkel is the general manager for corporate communications for National Fuel Gas Company.

While Wednesday’s press release stated that “New Yorkers support efforts on climate change,” it excluded many of the poll’s more nuanced findings and focused almost entirely on concerns over the cost and reliability of renewables. The group also made the poll’s full results “available upon request” rather than providing a download, leading some climate activists to speculate that the organization wasn’t happy with its broader findings.

Some of the poll’s findings that were excluded from the group’s press release include:

  • 77 percent of New Yorkers believe that climate change is a serious issue;
  • 74 percent said they were willing to change aspects of how they live—including things like heating their homes, cooking and driving—to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • 74 percent believe changing how we heat homes is necessary to protect the environment;
  • 64 percent believe that electrifying New York’s buildings would create good paying jobs;
  • And 62 percent believe the benefits of electrifying the state’s buildings outweigh the costs.

But it’s worth noting that the poll also found that 79 percent of New Yorkers worry that electrifying their homes is too costly, and 73 percent believe natural gas should continue playing a role in the state’s energy sector as it transitions to zero carbon emissions.

To Vardi, however, those data points shouldn’t lead New York policymakers to back off or water down aggressive climate proposals, but to look for more ways to make transitioning to fully electric buildings more affordable. “The state’s policymakers need to provide further beneficial funding mechanisms to help folks get off polluting methane gas in their homes,” he said. “The recent successful pilot where the state swapped out gas stoves for clean induction stoves shows this is more than feasible, given political will and the right priorities.”

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly characterized 36.8 gigatons as the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That number refers to the amount emitted in 2022 alone.

Today’s Indicator

36.8 gigatons

That’s how much carbon dioxide was emitted into the air in 2022 due to skyrocketing fossil fuel use, marking the largest annual increase in CO2 emissions on record, dating back to the year 1900, u003ca href=u0022 to new data from the International Energy Agencyu003c/au003e.